Monday, September 1, 2008

A Private Matter

Would that John McCain had expressed equal outrage about the vicious rumors circulating the web about Barack Obama as he did appropriately today about Bristol Palin.  Her pregnancy, as Obama told reporters, has nothing to do with her mother’s qualifications to hold public office and family, most especially children, are off limits.  Governor Palin and her husband are not the first parents to face teen pregnancy and they won’t be the last.  Anyone who has children can appreciate what they, and most especially Bristol, has been going through.  Fortunately we all live in a country, where she has the choice to bring that baby to term in line with her own convictions and we can only wish them the best.

That this has become first page news tells a lot about our time and the level of national discourse.  It should also be a reminder to Governor Palin that she has now entered a different arena where hardball is not just the name of a television show but the reality of politics.   Whether he likes it or not, it also says something profound about John McCain.  If reports are correct, the Senator spent months considering his running mate and vetting potential candidates.  In the end, he selected someone whom he had only personally met a few days earlier.  Some have said it was a tactical decision, a way to change the conversation and, perhaps more importantly, appeal to women voters.  It’s hard not to add that it appears to have been impulsive decision.

We have spent more than a year learning about and vetting the Presidential candidates.  Unbelievably, we’re told many American voters don’t yet know Barack Obama and even John McCain.  Perhaps that’s true, but not because they weren’t given the opportunity.  Vice Presidential candidates are not exposed to such scrutiny and, unless they have themselves been contenders for the top job or have an extensive public record, the person who will be a heartbeat away from the Presidency is often an unknown quantity.  There is something very bizarre about that and, in times like these, particularly unsettling.

McCain says he knew about this very personal matter when he selected Governor Palin.  Rest assured there will be a lot digging to find out if that’s true and legitimately so.  If he in fact did not know, what else about the candidate might his “vetting” have missed?  If he did know, why in naming a running mate with such strong views on reproductive choice, did he decide not to disclose it?  Was Bristol’s carrying her little brother in that harness calculated to hide her own pregnancy?   Family as Obama says is strictly off limits, but when an unknown candidate for the second highest office in the land decides to parade her family before the country on national television, she has in fact invaded their privacy and opened the door to scrutiny.

No one knows how this will play out in the days ahead.  I have great misgivings about a potential Vice President who is against choice and in favor of teaching creationism.   These positions reflect her religious beliefs, which is what makes her so attractive to the Party’s hard right.  What people of faith believe and what moves their personal behavior and decisions are their own business.  When their personal religious convictions are imposed on the rest of us that’s very different.  This is not the moment to discuss the implications of unwanted pregnancies, but the cat is out of the bag.  We are likely to come back to it soon.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan, I enjoyed this post and share your views up to a point. What I'm about to say is not very P.C., so let me preface it by saying that I give Sarah Palin a lot of credit for rising through the ranks from PTA mom to Governor to the national stage, while simultaneously raising a large, active family according to the values she and her husband hold. I do not agree with many (or any) of her known positions, but I respect her integrity and admire her progress to date, which seems to have been accomplished on her own terms.
    OK. That said, this latest family drama leads me to wonder whether Palin--or anyone in her position--can really "do it all." Granted, women have fought hard for the right to try, and Palin could be viewed as proof of their success. But the stakes are pretty high here. Everyone is saying "Hands off, it's private, family problems are off limits," but I think that approach lets Palin off the hook too easily. Her daughter's pregnancy may be her family's business, but it's not just her family's welfare that must be considered when Palin takes on the huge burden of running for Vice President. On the other side of the equation, the country has a legitimate--possibly even paramount-- interest in knowing that the candidate can do the job. I think it is entirely reasonable to ask whether a woman who claims to put family first (I'm not questioning her sincerity, just pointing out her staunch adherence to "family values") can really meet the enormous demands of the office she seeks and still be there for an infant son with Down syndrome, a pregnant, newlywed teenage daughter, a son in Iraq, and a couple of others in between? A "token VP" might be able to do it, but in these difficult post-9/11 times, and given McCain's age and health history, not to mention Palin's very low position on the presidential learning curve, we need a lot more than a token. We need a fully committed, 100% engaged VP whose energy is focused on the job at hand.
    You get my point. I think this may be a case of an ambitious young woman biting off more than she can chew. (Her acceptance seems almost as impulsive as McCain's selection.) And even if Palin eventually proves equal to the task, in my mind the presumption at this point is against her. With so much on her plate from the outset, it is just not credible to argue that she can handle it all at the level of competence that the VP job demands in the modern world. I don't think voters or the press should have to tiptoe around this question solely because it's considered impolite. Frankly, I would be equally skeptical if McCain had chosen a young male candidate with Sarah Palin's complicated family life and minimal experience. In Palin's case, why should we simply accept, unquestioningly, that she can juggle all the balls at once (a) because she says she can and (b) because she hasn't screwed up yet in Alaska (that we know of)?
    Simply put, I wish Governor Palin had postponed her national aspirations until she was better known and her kids were a little older--like her professed role models, Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton. Because she chose not to do so, all the circumstances of her life that bear on her ability to serve should be open to scrutiny, including the competing demands of her family.