Monday, September 1, 2008

Sarah, Plain and Diminished

I like Sarah. How can one not? She is what we wish all our politicians were - real, earthy, and perhaps above all in this election, someone who comes from somewhere. In her life and beliefs, she shows the values of the small town she grew up in. Revealingly, one of the main line of attacks against her is the smallness of the place from which she comes. The assumption is that, if you are going to govern something large and complicated like America, you should come from somewhere (or nowhere in particular) that is similarly large and complex. The values that might be cultivated in a small town - loyalty, integrity born of actual commitments, the courage to stand up for what you believe in, a willingness to sacrifice for those one knows and cares for, a high valuation of face-to-face trust and compromise - are deemed irrelevant among the chattering class of pundits. The longstanding disdain for smallness and "parochiality" continues to separate our elites from nearly everyone else.

But still - learning yesterday that Sarah's daughter is expecting diminished Sarah in my eyes. This diminishment had nothing to do with disapproval of the pregnancy or disappointment in her mothering skills (it amazes me that some on the Left are even going here. Really. Incredible.). We all know that people make mistakes, and what reveals character most fundamentally are not our inevitable mistakes, but how we respond to those mistakes. What has impressed, and still impresses, about Sarah and now her family is that they live the values they espouse. She appears to be the living embodiment of the values so often touted by Republicans, but so seldom carried through (the sainted Ronald Reagan and John McCain were both divorcees, it could be recalled).

Peter Lawler has rightly noted that Sarah was chosen because of WHO she IS. "Sarah energizes the "faith and family" vote because of WHO she is.... Palin represents real, young people with real marriages, real jobs, real families, a real enjoyment for sports, the outdoors, and all the good things of life, real religion, and a real sense of personal responsibility." I agree completely - and the announcement of her daughter's pregnancy undermines this narrative in a disturbing if indirect way. Knowing of her daughter's pregnancy, and knowing the sort of wringer a modern Presidential campaign resembles, could she have doubted for a moment that this would become "big news?" That every aspect of her daughter's life would now be investigated - even as the MSM would tut-tut about the way children are now dragged into campaigns, and publically wrestle over whether news about candidate's children should be covered, even as they continuously plaster pictures of Bristol on the news and report the name of the father, investigate his background, and doubtlessly will try to figure out exactly where and when the dirty deed was done...

In short, if the narrative of Sarah's ascent is WHO she IS, then we know that she was willing to accept a place on the ticket in spite of the harrowing public attention to which her daughter would be subjected. Perhaps Bristol is, or will turn out to be, a Juno-like character who doesn't give a good G-D about what other people think. Perhaps her mother knows this, and went forward in accepting the VP slot knowing her daughter would be impervious to probing, intrusive, international scrutiny. But if she is in any way a typical American teenager - and a small-town one at that - it's likely she will be embarrassed, demoralized and possibly damaged by the obscenely bright lights of attention on her now. The sad fact is that this is now an inescapable part of the the modern campaign. It was certain to be the one sure attack on Sarah, since "WHO she IS" is her most appealing feature. Sarah won't be the one subjecting her daughter to this gauntlet, but surely she had to know it awaited. If her daughter is damaged by this attention, her mother will have invited it for the sake of being named to the ticket. Perhaps this is the ultimate example of "Country First." Or, I fear, it may be another woeful instance of "Political Viability First." I wish only the best for the Palins, and hope Sarah's was the right decision for their family.


mkazin said...

Patrick-- A sensitive post about Palin. But, as a committed liberal who has often criticized my fellow libs for making fun of "family values," I have to ask: if Chelsea Clinton had gotten pregnant at 17 when her father was president, would conservatives have held off from attacking her parents?

In the end, whatever her personal virtues, I can't see how anyone who thinks the good of one's family should come first can support Sarah P. remaining on the ticket. She has a disabled infant and a daughter about to give birth and a future son-in-law who is hard-drinking jock who never wanted kids.

As a national candidate and then, potentially, second in command of the most powerful nation in the world, when is she going to find time to bring up her children?

Michael Kazin

Patrick Deneen said...

Michael, it's a curious comment. My first suspicion is that you were suggesting that Republicans would have been wrong to criticize the Clinton's parenting had Chelsea been in the same state, but then proceed to criticize Sarah Palin's parenting. Your comments suggest that if a mother "puts her family first," she should not hold demanding career positions. I have a difficult time imagining this is what you're suggesting. If it is, I'm not so sure about your self-identification as a "committed liberal."

So, I'm guessing that you're arguing that the same conservatives who would have criticized the Clintons should be making the same point now about Sarah Palin - for consistency's sake. It's more a critique of speculative conservative hypocrisy rather than about Sarah Palin as such. I would have disagreed with such critiques if they'd been made about the Clintons, and disagree with such critiques about Sarah Palin. There can be no doubt that such things are being said because she is a mother; few would say the same about the failings of a father were the same thing to have happened to one of Obama's daughters (a few years hence). There is doubtless a double-standard, one that the Republicans hoped to exploit by putting forward a strong female candidate while whispering that she'd better not be bullied by Biden in the debates. But clearly your suggestion that "family values " voters should cease to support her is absurd, since your argument would (in fairness) eliminate any candidate for higher office who has a family, and frankly would suggest that any person who "puts family first" should either take undemanding jobs or not have a family. So, your formulation here is a tad simplistic...

fitzhamilton said...

Perhaps Chelsea was pregnant at 17. Most teenagers these days who become pregnant abort early. The affair is never known beyond the girl herself, the clinic, and maybe friends and family.

Given her family's politics, who doubts that if she had become pregnant, the option to abort ("a baby has no place at Stanford Chelsea..")

The fact that we know about Bristol Palin's pregnancy says a lot about her and by extension her family. Most of it good. This is a family that is truly pro life when it counts.

Besides, I doubt Bristol is all that fragile, and this press crap is only going to last for another couple cycles. It would have broken in the Alaskan press anyway, and that would probably been almost as brutal as this from Bristol's parochial pov, anyway. She made a tough, courageous choice, it was always going to be embarrassing ("Knocked up in high school in this day and age! How gauche!") her family supports her, and her mother's career prospers as it should.

Life goes on.

Personally, Palin is the first reason I've found to vote nationally this fall. I thank her for that. I don't think the president is half as important as people pretend.. Still, of the four major candidates, I sense she may be the least bellicose, and the one most likely to stymie Congress as much as possible.

The less the Federal government does, the better, if you ask me. Joe Biden is "Mr. Experience" himself, and I can think of few (other than most of the rest of the Senate) I would less want to be president.

So her inexperience is moot. Her integrity, and the idea she might appoint some real pro life judges, are reason enough to support her.

If only she were at the head of the ticket.

Anonymous said...

If my 16 yeard sister had gotten pregnant, and was not married, I waould beat the hell out of the boy, I know that as a liberal my parents will instill in him the same valus of safe sex, and not children untill marrage, and when I loveing family is ready to care for that child, THAT is family values and I hope american will agree.