By Ellen Goodman
You gotta love this campaign. No sooner does the curtain come crashing down on one climactic moment than up it goes on another. The Democrats choose NoDrama Obama and the channel switches to Soap Opera McCain. You want change? I’ll show you change: Introducing Sarah Palin, a running mate as unfamiliar as the tundra.
Talk about rolling the dice. The idea was to connect to the Hillary supporters. These women, dismayed by the idea that the experienced female was passed over for a fresh male face, were supposed to be won over by a patently inexperienced female fresh face. Never mind that this feisty working mom leans—no, falls—right on social issues. You go, Clara Thomas. Oops, I mean you go, girl.
The Straight Talk Express twisted itself into a pretzel trying to defend her qualifications to be commander in chief. More to the point, the mother of five had a personal story meant to capture the imagination of the American people, whose minds were beginning to wander ominously to such non-entertaining narratives as the Iraq war and the economy.
Not that I don’t find the Sarah Palin story engaging. Mom to mayor to governor to veep nominee? There’s one woman who didn’t have trouble raising her hand in class. There’s one woman who didn’t think she had to be twice as good as a man to run. Be careful what you wish for.
I shifted into high dudgeon over the Sexism in the Media, Part II, the blogcreeps and cablescum sneering at her beauty-queen bio and her working-mom credentials. Then along came the news that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. Immediately, the “family values” folks who have fashioned a political wedge out of moral judgments began insisting that anyone who remarked on this baby bump was an insensitive invader of privacy.
What did James Dobson of Focus on the Family say? This teen pregnancy showed that “she and her family are human.” Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council praised Bristol for “choosing life in the midst of a difficult situation.” A spokeswoman for the Campaign for Family Values called the Palins “an American family out there living out their values.”
Meanwhile, Barack Obama himself, born to an 18-year-old mother, said strongly, “People’s families are off limits and people’s children are especially off limits.” Well, OK. But let’s not forget that it’s the right wing that made social issues into a political issue. The right wing decided that pregnancy was not a matter of private decision-making but a harsh and unrelenting political battle.
Sarah Palin had her youngest child after a prenatal test showed he had Down syndrome. But she doesn’t believe that other women should be allowed to make their own choice. The Palin’s daughter got the “news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned.” But her mother opposes sex education programs that go beyond abstinence only.
John McCain, an unrelenting opponent of abortion, was once asked whether the government should provide contraception and replied, “You’ve stumped me.” The Republican platform is not similarly stumped with its implacable opposition to every abortion and its renewed “call for replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior.”
Pregnancy is indeed private. Decisions are to be discussed and determined in a family. But the party meeting in St. Paul, Minn., would put decisions about pregnancy in the hands of the government and replace sex information with disinformation. No, you don’t have to pass judgment on a 17-year-old to pass judgment on these unrelenting policymakers.
As for the candidate as mother, is it beyond the pale to wonder whether Sarah Palin and her husband should have thought first of shielding their pregnant daughter from a media lens that they know will focus on the baby bump and a marriage that will take place during a national campaign? Has the candidate who mocked Obama for his celebrity status, comparing him to Paris Hilton, created the newest Jamie Lynn Spears?
I remember way back when the late Elizabeth Janeway, a doyenne of the women’s movement, imagined the first woman president. She would be a vice president picked for “balance” and elevated by fate to the Oval Office. More to the point, Janeway fantasized archly and knowingly, she would be a conservative Republican who believed in the status quo.
Sarah Palin? So far, she looks like a Bridge to Nowhere.
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group