Tuesday, September 09, 2008


The GOP's Palin Problem And Mine

I said last week that Sarah Palin represented a "step away" from what the Republican Party once was -- and not in a good way. Let me explain why I feel that way.

Now, there are, in fact, numerous reasons why conservatives should, at the very least, be troubled by the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. Paul Mirengoff at Powerline gets into some, sharing Charles Krauthammer's concerns which, to his credit, he has been consistent on since Day One of the Palin announcement.

To the foreign policy/national security concerns that Krauthammer raises, one could also look at the fiscal/economic ones: Palin is said to be one of the most popular governors in the country (with 80 percent approval rating) because of her fiscal sobriety as governor. Well, this is nominally true. But she managed to to be marginally fiscally prudent because she and the Republican legislature (which, by the way, doesn't agree on much -- the GOP Senate president wonders how Palin could be a good vice president when, in her words, she hasn't been that good of a governor) imposed a huge tax hike on oil companies. The CATO Institute, by the way, notes that the people of Alaska didn't exactly get much of a windfall tax reduction because of the oil company hike. And as for opposition to the "bridge to nowhere" earmark, -- well, she supported it, then opposed it -- and then happily kept the federal money (for other uses) when the actual earmark was scrapped.

So on both national security and fiscal/economic policy, Palin's record is hardly that great. But, putting all that aside, my problem with Palin is as personal as anything else.

Keep in mind, from most reports, McCain initially wanted Joe Lieberman as his running mat. He was ultimately overruled because of the understandable concern that he would precipitate a revolt from the socially conservative base. Enter: Sarah Palin.

Ironically, though Palin fulfills the dreams and desires of social conservatives on the narrowest aspect of "pro-life", i.e. she kept her baby, even though she knew it had Down Syndrome and unwed pregnant daughter Bristol also kept her baby. However, in the broader view of what was once known as
"family values" among Republicans, Palin and Co. actually undermine that message.

Bye, bye "Daddy Party."
Hello, hello, "Baby Daddy Party." The self-described "f---ing redneck," Levi Johnston, father of Bristol Palin's baby was welcomed with open arms to the coronation of his girlfriend's mom's ascension as the new Mrs. Right.

I tip my hat to NRO's Byron York who, the day before Palin's acceptance speech, made the obvious comparison:
"This is not an issue that we're going to act ashamed or scared about," my source told me. "Despite the media coverage of this, voters still have such a great response to [Sarah Palin]. This just makes her more real." So, I asked, does that mean Johnston will be on stage with the Palin family? "At this point we don't know whether he will be up on stage," I was told. "It remains to be seen. There hasn't been a decision made yet."

Perhaps I'm focusing on an irrelevant issue, but the presence, or non-presence, of Johnston on the stage tonight strikes me as important. It's one thing for delegates to be understanding and compassionate about the fix these two teenagers have gotten themselves into. It's another to actually celebrate it. And, given what we've learned in the last few days, if Johnston is up on stage with his girlfriend and the Palin family, and Republicans are wildly cheering, it will certainly look like they are celebrating this situation.

I don't usually engage in these scenarios, but I'll do it here. If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.
I appreciate Byron raising this point. It's far from irrelevant. Remarkably, none of York's National Review colleagues thought that this was a problem. Jay Nordlinger said he would applaud the young couple because of everything they were going through. Andy McCarthy said that he didn't see any difference between how a black unwed couple (related to a black high profile nominee) would be treated by either conservatives or the broader media. That has got to be one of the most willfully obtuse views I have ever heard.

I'm not going to be as cautious in my assessment of an event or decision.

This is as repugnant a betrayal of what Republicans have purported to be as one can imagine. This is the party of welfare reform (and it's earlier bogey-woman, "welfare queens," who had children out of wedlock while on the dole). This is the party that allegedly promotes traditional "marriage."

No, I won't pretend to be "objective" on this issue. Some forty-something years ago, I was born out of wedlock. Growing up -- particularly attending Catholic schools -- the sense of shame of having that status was never too far away. Heck, the aunt who raised my mother made her life so miserable after she gave birth to me, Mom picked up and moved us to the UK. Small wonder then, that my basic instinct was that I should, as one of the more infamous illegitimate children once declared, "stand up for bastards!"

Earlier this year, conservatives pilloried Barack Obama for saying that he wouldn't want to see his daughter "punished" with an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, what he said is little different than what was said of young girls who ended up "in the family way" (to use another colloquialism of the time). Those girls were said to have gotten "in trouble." Becoming pregnant out of wedlock was hardly seen as a "blessing." It was seen as an outward representation of someone who had sinned. Indeed, for all sorts of traditionalists, it was seen as a "problem" to be "taken care of." Now, that meant different things, depending on class, culture, means and morality.
Under a best-case scenario (of demanding responsibility from all concerned), the father of the non-bride might decide that he wasn't going to allow his girl to be shamed her entire life -- and so, he would ensure that he would become a father-in-law. The male suitor would agree -- at gunpoint, if necessary.

Alas, if that didn't happen, all the other options were on the pregnant girl:

1) She could be sent off to spend time with a not-so-near "aunt" or other relative who would provide shelter from shame until either an operation was done or the baby was born and handed over to adoption agencies.

2) Yes, occasionally, if the pregnant child's mother was young enough -- as in the story that went around the Internet over the weekend concerning Sarah Palin and whether she actually gave birth to Bristol's child four months ago -- she might "take one for the team."

The Scarlet Letter.

Regardless, there is no other way to describe the societal pressures of a period not that long gone other than saying they were "punishing" to the young girl.

It is a good thing that young girls are no longer "punished" in such a manner. However, it is hardly in society's interest that there are no broader ramifications (beyond giving birth and raising the child for the next 18 years) for teenage parents.

Yet, how odd it is, that after several days when Republicans denounced liberals for making Bristol Palin the story, GOP organizers had no problem inviting the father of Bristol's unborn child to come to the convention. By bringing Levi to the convention, they helped EXPAND upon what was already a huge story -- just as it was about to calm down.

Levi was introduced to John McCain at the airport, where the then-presumptive GOP nominee embraced the now-cleaned up Johnston. How nice that the campaign ensured that there was an AP photographer there to capture the "private" moment. In the immortal words of
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Republican Party chose to "define deviancy down," by saying that the self-described "f---ing redneck" is part of the Palin family because he's impregnated the VP candidate's daughter. Given McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' statement that the election isn't about "issues," but about a "composite view" of all the candidates, one might surmise Johnston was brought to the convention precisely to keep the story big.

Levi Johnston is now -- next to Seth Rogen -- the most famous guy to knock up a chick. And, hey, he gets to come to a political convention and be a prop to the guy who may be the next president of the United States!


And, again, in the eyes of today's Republican Party -- and, apparently, the conservative movement, in toto -- there is nothing even passingly wrong with this. Why should there be? After all, this is in service to a, pardon the pun, broader agenda -- a 44 year old quote-conservative-unquote mother of five who can become a rallying cry for women and blue-collar voters!

When confronted with swirling cultural issues, this is what the Republican Party does -- it "
anoints" members of what, in other contexts, are considered "preferred" groups and "fast tracks" to positions at a speed much greater than they would otherwise attain. It is pure identity politics for which they condemn Democrats for playing. Clarence Thomas then; Sarah Palin now. And again, along the way, greater principles are tossed to the way side -- affirmative action, 17 years ago; the stigma of unwed teen pregnancy today (and that national security/experience thing, to boot).

Any number of conservatives have noted why Sarah
Palin is objectively problematic to be the vice-presidential nominee. But the base is happy because of what she symbolizes.

I say that it is precisely what she -- and Bristol and Levi --
symbolize that represents a tossing overboard of an integral Republican standard and principle. And that is a sad thing.

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