Sarah Palin Fails Her Most Important Job

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday September 04, 2008 - 09:30:00 AM

What’s a feminist to think? In my youth, people talked about trying to figure out the “standard liberal position” on a controversial issue. Later on, “liberal” got to be a no-no word as the hip left competed to see who could be more radical than thou. “Politically correct” was used without irony for a season or two among those who had an old left background, only to acquire a sarcastic edge among the rest of the left who distrusted the verities of previous eras. The compromise word de jour seems to be “progressive”—it’s a word even Republicans have been known to use. 

The term “feminist” has undergone a similar evolution. Regardless of what it meant in 1972 (and it meant many things to many people in those days) it seems to apply today to anyone who thinks a woman’s life choices should not be limited or defined by her gender. “Feminist” had a pejorative period, but that seems to have passed. Again, today even Republicans might qualify. 

But the selection of Alaska’s Miss Congeniality as John McCain’s running mate is putting a severe strain on any of the many kinds of feminist analysis now available to the au courant political pundit. And the news has been changing so fast that political writers are compelled to disclose not only the day but even the hour at which they reached their current conclusions. So readers should know that they’re now reading my Tuesday morning opinion, but by the Planet’s Thursday print issue it could all be different again. 

Let’s start with the bottom line, and then we can see how we got there. 

There’s no fool like an old fool, we old wives are prone to say, and John McCain has shown himself to be the prototypical, quintessential old fool in this one. What could he have been thinking? Or was he thinking at all? 

His choice of an essentially inexperienced ex-beauty queen to be a heartbeat away from a 72-year-old cancer survivor was bad enough. Worse was his campaign’s Tuesday announcement that they’d known about all Sarah Palin’s excess baggage all along: the pregnant daughter, Troopergate, Sarah’s long-standing support for the Alaska Independence Party (that one’s still building) and more. Exactly who thought that none of this mattered, and why did they think that? 

Barack Obama chivalrously said that families should be off limits, and since he’s the candidate that’s the right decision for him. But for the rest of us the question of how Sarah Palin has been discharging her life responsibilities should not be off limits at all, and in fact it should be central to the discussion of why McCain has demonstrated his complete lack of common sense in this matter by choosing her in the first place. 

Feminist though I am, I’m old-fashioned enough to think that if you decide to have children your most important job until they’re grown is raising them properly. Let’s hear no cant about Palin’s not “choosing” to have her five children. Anyone who understands the mechanics of conjugation between a man and a woman is choosing to have children unless they choose to prevent it. Even if you’re married, abstinence from man-woman sex is a surefire method of not conceiving the children you don’t plan to care for. This applies equally to men and to women. 

And Palin has not had any jobs so far that were anything like as hard as parenting a family of any size. Being the mayor of a little suburb with few administrative powers or responsibilities should have been a piece of cake. There are fewer people in Alaska than, say, Austin, and because of the oil bonanza it shouldn’t be nearly as hard to balance the budget there as it is in real states like California. Anyhow, the story about firing the guy who refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law suggests that Sarah hasn’t been doing a stellar job as governor. 

Does she get any extra points or demerits because she and her daughter are opposed to abortion, and have chosen to bear children in situations where some might have chosen abortion? Of course not—if being pro-choice means anything, it should mean not spending a lot of time dwelling on whether someone else’s choice in this sensitive and emotional decision is right or wrong. 

But being pro-choice does not mean approving any parent’s decision to neglect children once they’re born. Sarah and her husband will soon be responsible for six children altogether, since Bristol is obviously still no more than a child herself, despite her 16 or 17 years of life. Her mother’s cheery prediction that pregnancy “would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned” is not likely to happen. 

Make that seven kids, if the father of the newest baby is inducted into the Palin clan via a shotgun wedding. He said on his My Space page that he didn’t want kids, but now he’s got one, like it or don’t. It’s unlikely that he’s ready to be much of a parent either. 

What Sarah Palin did have a choice about, and still does, is taking care of all the kids she’s got. And don’t suggest that her husband will do it alone, because it’s too much for one person, male or female. For starters, though Down Syndrome kids can be a great joy to their parents, they also need even more hands-on attention than other babies, both when they’re infants and as they grow up. Bristol was pictured clutching little Trig during one press conference, but what’s going to happen when there are two babies who need someone to hold them? 

The middle Palin children are girls 13 and 7, just about the ages of my three granddaughters, who among them have four excellent fully functioning parents (not to mention grandparents and a great-grandmother) who have their hands full taking good care of their kids while also working at jobs. Just the needs of these two little girls alone should have been enough to cause Sarah and Todd Palin to question whether this is the year for her to undertake a demanding new career move—and they have five more to take care of. 

The oldest Palin child, a boy of 18, has gone into the army right out of high school. That’s usually the career choice of young people who don’t have many other opportunities available. 

Young Track Palin (even more unfortunately named than his sisters) would be better advised to continue his education (with ROTC if his patriotism demands it) instead of signing up for the Bridge to Nowhere that the invasion of Iraq has become. The fact that he decided to join the army instead would be taken as evidence of parental failure in many circles 

The final sentence in Palin’s announcement of her daughter’s condition was particularly unfortunate: “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 to respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy….” 

Being president, or even vice-president, requires much more than the usual amount of focus and dedication, and leaves officeholders much less time to devote to their families. If the Palins, especially Sarah, really want to support these pregnant children, they would put their own professional ambitions on hold until both babies were in school and the young mother and father were able to support themselves and their child. If Sarah respected the privacy of the daughter and the boyfriend, she would not have thrust herself—and them—into the spotlight at this particular difficult moment. 

There’s no feminist ideology that mandates exploiting and neglecting your kids in order to get ahead. Nancy Pelosi, another mother of five, did it right, and Palin could too if she had an ounce of compassion or a grain of sense. 

The race for the U.S. presidency is not just one more beauty contest. That neither Sarah Palin nor John McCain seems to know this ultimately reflects on their judgment. It is clear and convincing evidence that neither is even remotely qualified to be president. And if a majority of Americans allow themselves to be hornswoggled by these two fools, the rest of us are going to have to consider moving to Canada.