I've been keeping mum about Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy on purpose. I'm not exactly sure how to feel. I'm not going to say Bristol Palin being pregnant is a moral failing on her part and that we should see this as evidence that Sarah is a bad mother. How on earth am I supposed to know that? I only just heard about this woman and I don't like judging. That's why I'm a liberal.
I feel bad for Bristol, actually, because once she was pregnant, she didn't have a choice. Can you imagine the outrage if she had gotten an abortion, her mother had covered it up, and then this leaked out to the public? Her mother's political career would be ruined, since all we know about her platform is that she's "as pro-life as you can get". So, once Bristol was pregnant, of course she had to have the baby. Of course she had to marry the father. To act otherwise would display real hypocrisy in the Republican party.
Lucky for us, that hypocrisy is still seeping out. The McCain and Palin camps have used the language of choice surrounding this girl's pregnancy. That she has "decided" to keep the baby. By acknowledging her freedom of choice, they are speaking in pro-choice language and exposing a fatal flaw in their party.
This article from Salon is superb. I think, out of everything I've read, that author Rebecca Traister analyzes it best:
The first, and most serious issue raised by today's official story is that the language used in the public statement about Bristol is at odds with the McCain-Palin line on reproductive rights. According to the New York Times story, "Bristol Palin made the decision on her own to keep the baby, McCain aides said." That's just peachy in its presumption that Bristol had a choice about whether or not to continue her pregnancy. It's true that in 2008, she certainly does have a legal choice. But she wouldn't under the proposed administration of her mother and John McCain, both of whom oppose abortion rights and tell us they would work to overturn Roe. Palin is a member of Feminists for Life, and once called herself, during her failed 2002 run for Alaska's lieutenant governor, as "pro-life as any candidate can be." To celebrate the decision-making freedoms of her daughter was an irrational, unproductive choice.
It's a logic loophole through which McCain himself has traveled in the past. As Kate Sheppard has reported in In These Times, McCain, who supports the overturning of Roe v. Wade, said during his 2000 run for president that if his daughter got pregnant, "The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel." When reporters pointed out to him that he had just described a pro-choice situation, McCain replied, "I don't think it is the pro-choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide." Yes. It is the pro-choice position, or at least part of it. So McCain has already been caught in the same goof made today.
The Bristol baby is also likely to get McCain all wound up in talk of his support for abstinence-only education. The Arizona senator has a record of voting against programs that use federal money to distribute condoms; he has voted against federal funding for programs that teach medically accurate, comprehensive sex education; and he has voted down programs that would make birth control more widely available. In March 2007, he stumbled when asked about his position on contraception in HIV prevention, asking an aid to "find out what my position is on contraception -- I'm sure I'm opposed to government spending on it, I'm sure I support the president's policies on it."
As for Palin's stand on abstinence-only education, it's not great, but she hasn't been a particularly disruptive advocate of Alaska's sex-ed programs, which says something (a very little something) about her lack of enthusiasm for abstinence-only programs during George Bush's eight year roll-back of reproductive rights and his worldwide propagation of abstinence-only reprogramming. Based on early reporting, Palin has only once weighed in on the topic. When asked a confusingly worded question about whether she would "support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of for explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics, and the distribution of contraceptives in schools," she replied, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support." She is a member of Feminists for Life, an anti-choice group that does not take a prohibitive stand on birth control.
For the right, the story of Palin's daughter's pregnancy will also become fodder to move their ball along. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has already hopped into the conversation with this helpful statement, that teen pregnancy "is problem that we remain committed to reducing through encouraging young people to practice abstinence." Perkins also congratulated Bristol on "following her mother and father's example of choosing life in the midst of a difficult situation."
It's certainly tempting to fall into the trap of attacking back, of making Bristol Palin and her boyfriend and her fetus the football we kick around for the next two months, four years, or however long Palin survives on the Republican ticket.
But how far can that take us? The news that many politicians are hypocrites should not blow many minds. This rhetorical game -- asking politicians who make the laws to apply them to themselves or their own kin -- is an old American favorite. It happens when Michael Moore accosts congresspeople on the street asking why their kids aren't in the Iraq war they voted for; it happens when Michael Dukakis is asked in a debate how he would respond if his own wife were raped; it even happens when Barack Obama talks about getting the rest of the country the same kind of healthcare packages he and his fellow members of Congress have given themselves.
It's a strategy that can be useful, like when it comes to healthcare arguments. But when applied to personal turmoil, the unearthing of stuff that few families could survive unscathed, it becomes more troubling. It is a game that ignores the fact that there's a real person, a real family, a real kid about to have another real kid, all of whom are being used as political punching bags. When it suits us, we bypass the fact that many of us believe that what happens within the families and bedrooms of our politicians -- while diverting, even titillating -- shouldn't cloud our perceptions of how they do their jobs. It's what we believed when Clinton was witch-hunted out of his second term, when we talk about Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy, when we fete Ted Kennedy.
And while his campaign may or may not be hooting and hollering about this story line in private, in public, Barack Obama drew a very firm line on the Palin revelation, noting that if anyone in his campaign was pushing the story forward they would be fired. Bristol Palin's pregnancy, Obama said, "has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president." He also pointed out that his own mother had been 18 when she gave birth to him. "How family deals with issues and teen-age children -- that shouldn't be the topic of our politics," Obama said.
The issue here isn't why Sarah Palin's daughter got pregnant or is choosing to stay pregnant, though the narrative (and gotcha) appeals of both plotlines are evident. It's why the hell John McCain, in his attempt to pick a chick to woo Democratic woman, picked one who had a family drama that he reportedly knew about. If he understands the first thing about the American people and their thirst for scandal, he must have realized it would be all anyone could talk about.
Why, when he had women like Kay Bailey Hutchison, Liddy Dole, Condoleezza Rice, Christine Todd Whitman or Meg Whitman to choose from did he select a running mate with a pre-made family drama for voters and the media to latch onto?
Women -- the same women who may or may not have supported Hillary, and who are applauding McCain's supposedly go-girl choice of Palin as his veep -- should be furious at the Republican nominee for ensuring that the history-making woman he tapped will be considered not on her intellectual or political merits, but on her reproductive ones.
In his callous, superficial and ill-judged attempt to woo women voters with the presence of mammary glands on his ticket -- hot, young ones to boot -- McCain has committed a sickening grievance against both voters and those female politicians whom he purports to respect and support. What a failure by McCain to have this woman -- with her pregnancies and progeny and sex life and child-rearing prowess now being inspected instead of her policy and voting history -- stand in for, and someday, possibly emblemize the political progress of American women, especially at a moment at which women had, temporarily it seems, risen far enough above our gestational capabilities to be taken seriously in the race for the White House.