I had thought the terrifying onslaught of Gustav and the efforts by the GOP to dodge the Katrina bullet–or turn it to McCain’s benefit–would be the story of the day, but the bombshell news that Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant is worth addressing given the stakes, and the nexus of religion and politics. A
nd, well, because it’s irresistible. (WaPo coverage here and NYTimes here. And a reader sends this photo from a McCain daughter’s blog, apparently of Bristol, holding baby Trig, from a People magazine shoot, as evidence that she was obviously pregnant. I’m not so sure.)
The Palin family issued a statement saying the daughter and daddy-to-be, Levi, would marry:
“Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows that she has our unconditional love and support…Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media, respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”
Naturally this will introduce some German terms–mainly schadenfreude, I think–into the political lexicon. But it is also offering “Palinistas” and McCainiacs a chance to tout Palin as even more pro-life than ever. I haven’t surfed too far, but I was struck by the title of Rod Dreher’s “Crunchy Con” post: “Palin’s daughter gets pregnant, chooses life.” Rod writes:
Will this hurt her politically? I’m thinking not. Nor should it. Unplanned teen pregnancy is not unheard of in this country. Any family could face this crisis, even conservative Christian families. I’ve known some myself. The question is: how do you deal with it? Bristol Palin is not going to abort her unborn child. She’s going to keep the baby and marry the father. Good for her. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen, and now she’s going to do the right thing — the hard thing. Again: good. Mother and child — and father — need support.
My initial reaction is that Dreher is right–Palin supporters will rally around her, and will forcefully use any efforts to view this development as a chink in the Palin’s all-American, super-Christian reputation against the critics. And that might work. As Rod says, and as others have noted, this sort of thing happens to families like the Palins all the time. Sarah Palin and her daughter will be raising kids who will grow up together.
The news is so delicate for the Dems that Obama has weighed in saying:
“Back off these kinds of stories…I have said before and I will repeat again: People’s families are off limits. And people’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin’s performance as a governor and or her potential perfromance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18 and how a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be a topic of our politics.”
Yet so nervous is the Christian right that they’re actually giving Obama kudos–Rod calls him “classy,” even though Obama’s demonstrated class throughout the campaign, as opposed to the other camp. Then again, Obama is also in a political bind, as the GOP was saying his camp started the rumors that led to the revelation. He denied it, and wanted to put distance there, if possible.
I am not running for office, thank heaven, so at the risk of incurring such wrath (but what the heck), I think this story raises raises many other truly serious questions, beyond the obvious hole in the Palins’ holier-than-thou presentation. For one, the McCain camp apparently knew of Bristol’s pregnancy before the pick was made. So why wasn’t this made public right off the bat? Why all the hype about how wonderful the family is–when you know that may blow up in your face? According to campaign officials, the announcement was made after wild rumors began circulating on liberal blogs (not here!) that intended to counter rumors by liberal bloggers that Gov. Palin only claimed to have given birth last April, but the child (Trig, who has Down syndrome) was really Bristol’s. So how long were they going to keep this secret? For another, say, two months–until Nov. 5?
The Palins are of course also fortunate to have the means to support their pregant teenage daughter–what will she do as vice-president and potential president do ensure other young single moms have the same option? And how will she address her party’s ad nauseam rhetoric about the decline in morals and family values when the very things they blast in the rest of society are in fact happening at home?
But again, I doubt that will have traction. Indeed, it may not even be true in a few hours, in light of the news here that in the hours before her selection was announced a McCain campaign volunteer was surreptiously massaging Palin’s Wikipedia entry with more than 30 edits to make her look good. (Lecture for the first day of class this semester writes itself…)
More perilous for Palin (the candidate, not the daughter), I think, are some of the items that blogmeisters at dotCommonweal brought to light, namely, that she actually backed that infamous pork barrel “Bridge to Nowhere” when she ran for governor in 2006, even though she said at her introduction by McCain that she was against it–and McCain cited that as a reason for picking her, so she could clean up Washington. As the USA Today story says:
Asked why she supported the bridge, Palin’s communications director Bill McAlister said, “It was never at the top of her priority list, and in fact the project isn’t necessarily dead … there’s still the potential for improved ferry service or even a bridge of a less costly design.” She changed her mind, he said, when “she saw that Alaska was being perceived as taking from the country and not giving, and that impression bothered her and she wants to change it…I think that Sarah Palin is someone who has the courage to reevaluate situations as they developed.”
She is good at reevaluation. A dotCommonwealer also dug up her response to a 2006 Eagle Forum election questionnaire:
QUESTION: Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?
PALIN: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.
Of course, as even Wikipedia knows, the pledge wasn’t written until 1892, and the phrase “Under God” wasn’t added until the 1950s–at the behest of the Knights of Columbus, natch.
Cross-potsed with Progressive Revival