Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In which I interrupt regular bean stories for a political aside

I have been mesmerized these past few days by the unfolding story of Sarah Palin’s nomination for the Republican vice presidential ticket. It’s like a car wreck in progress, a building on fire—I can’t look away from the spectacle, even as I feel sorry for the people trapped inside.

I was reading the first media responses to her nomination. (“Sarah who?” was my initial thought). Then, yes, I happened on the first Internet rumors that she had actually faked her last pregnancy to cover for the pregnancy of her teenage daughter. “Wackaloonery!” thought I (Physioprof’s language has been infecting my thoughts), but the conspiracy theorists did bring up some points that gave me pause. Then, of course, the bombshell that her seventeen year old daughter is indeed pregnant—not months ago, but right now.

The New York Times, our nations’s most esteemed newspaper, had, of course, to give a “mommy war” spin on the story. From the opening paragraphs of "In Palin, a New Twist in the Debate on Mothers":

“With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and, as the country learned Monday, a pregnant 17-year-old, Ms. Palin has set off a fierce argument among women about whether there are enough hours in the day for her to take on the vice presidency, and whether she is right to try.”

And my first, instinctive response to this article was to inwardly exclaim “New York Times, give us all a break!” I was in initial disbelief that this major newspaper would even bring up this concern and give it play in a full-length article. Aren’t we all supposed to be past this, after all? Employers aren’t even allowed to ask job candidates questions about their marital or parental status in job interviews. It’s not supposed to be a consideration. No one ever asks a father how he is going to balance a high-powered job with his family life. Barack Obama has two young children—does anyone question how he will balance the presidency with his family responsibilities? If Sara Palin were male, with five children including a special-needs infant and a pregnant teenage daughter, would anyone in the media publish this story?

But she’s not male, of course. (The cynical among us wonder if she was chosen primarily because she’s not male). She’s a mother, not a father; and so yes, people do wonder, they do judge. According to the NY Times piece, at least, (which appears to have been pieced together by eavesdropping in the mom blogosphere) mothers, in particular, wonder and judge.

And it’s not true that the private, family lives of male politicians are not also considered. When John Edwards was running for the presidential nomination, he was roundly criticized in some corners for hitting the campaign trail with a wife who had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Some people said out loud that Edwards should be focused on his family rather than political office, and plenty of commentators wondered if Edwards would have the focus to act competently as commander-in-chief, should his wife’s condition worsen while he were in office.

Our politicians’ personal lives have always been the subject of gossip and debate. How do those private and public lives intersect? When is it appropriate for the media (and voters) to analyze that intersection?

I suppose that for me, the real questions are: will a candidate’s personal life negatively impact in any way her or his ability to perform the elected job? And do issues in the personal life raise serious questions about his or her judgement and conduct in the public realm?

Frankly, I don’t care a flying fig if the president of the U.S. is screwing about with the White House interns—as long as he leads the nation well, that’s all fine with me. I wouldn’t want to be such a president’s wife, but then again, I’m not; I’m just a constituent. And I would guess that past U.S. presidents have not had time to tuck their children into bed every night, make the school recital, or have every needed heart-to-heart talk with a troubled teen. Barack Obama and Sara Palin are probably both having only limited time with their young children right now. And while that may be kinda sad. . . it’s not really my problem now, is it? Any more than it was my problem when Bill cheated on Hillary. Each family makes its own choices; in the case of Governor Palin, she has a stable marriage with the father of her children, and financial resources and support that are unavailable to most Americans. The only questions should be if she is competent to serve as vice-president and, potentially, as president.

(For me, the answer is NO! but that is a whole other post).

But look, I’m a mother and a human, and so even after this righteous rant, I am also still going to wonder about Palin’s family dynamics and personal life. It’s getting to be a sordid hillbilly soap opera affair now, splayed out over the Internet and mass media. When I opened up my Web browser yesterday, I saw that Salon had already dredged up the Myspace page for Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, and was dumping the contents onscreen for the world to see. Every time I see that now famous photo of Bristol holding her infant brother in her arms, I wince. And that part of me that is a mom, that sits in judgement of other moms (we all have that censorious self, don’t we?)—that part of me thinks: Sara Palin, as a mother, how could you subject your daughter to this? Because you had to know that by accepting the nomination, this would all come out. You had to know that your daughter’s privacy would be invaded, that she’d be pinned in the media glare, that she would become, in the words of columnist Maureen Dowd this week, “tabloid roadkill.”

I try not to judge. It’s irrelevant. And I sure as heck was not planning to vote Republican anyway. But I do wonder.


PhysioProf said...

Thanks for the fucking link!

Wayfarer Scientista said...

sigh, and she's the governor of AK. Which means she's my governor.

science cog said...

As usual you said my thoughts better than me. I'm not going to vote for her because of her political views. I have to wonder about her decision to expose her daughter like this. That's not good parenting.

ScienceGirl said...

This whole ordeal has made me wonder how much is too much to put one's family through for a job. And, if women are likely to consider this more than men are. If anything, I think men should become more considerate, not the other way around. I feel sorry for her daughter.

ophelia rising said...

I know, I agree. Why are politician's private lives so minutely dissected? I don't think a professional woman, or man, should be judged by the relationship to her (or his) children, any more than I thought Clinton should have been judged by his relationship to Lewinsky.

I judge Palin solely on her political views. I would not, in a million years, vote Republican, anyway. Palin, or no.