Let's talk about the Palin family!
Forget the war in Iraq, the screwed-up economy, the $3.57-per-gallon gas. How about those breeders, the Palins?
Admit it: We are a nation obsessed. In the checkout lane this weekend, readers could choose among People ("Sarah Palin's Family Drama"), the National Enquirer ("Sarah Palin's Dark Secrets!") or US Weekly ("Babies, Lies, and Scandal"). On the day of Palin's address at the Republican National Convention last week, Americans were two times more likely to Google "Palin affair" than "McCain voting record."
Just because a candidate is a woman doesn't mean she's a woman's candidate. New Times columnist Sarah Fenske and Amy Silverman, her editor, were at each other's throats over Hillary Clinton but that was nothing compared to the vitriol they've exchanged since John McCain picked Sarah Palin. Finally, Amy and Sarah agreed to disagree and to share their two very different perspectives with readers.
Read Amy's column here.
Is it any wonder this country is in the mess it's in?
The Palins are an attractive family. From the First Dude down to little baby Trig, they're a political asset, as is Sarah Palin's decision to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome. Plenty of abortion opponents would find it easy enough to forget their values when confronted with a less-than-perfect baby; Trig's life is proof that Sarah Palin did not.
And only a die-hard partisan could argue that Bristol Palin's pregnancy somehow negates her mother's pro-abstinence position. Just because a teen rejects her parent's values does not, somehow, make those values suspect.
Yet the media vetting of Palin has featured a how-does-she-do-it tone that's been markedly critical. The editor of the Tucson Weekly actually suggested Palin was unqualified for the vice presidency because she'd flown cross-country just before giving birth to her youngest baby. (Never mind that she'd consulted her doctors.) And even some female commentators have questioned whether it's possible for Palin to handle both family and the job. Sally Quinn, hardly a woman to stay home with a burping cloth, suggested that when the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call comes, Palin's child might be ill — and "her first priority has to be her children." Says who? Meanwhile, my editor, a feminist who cut her teeth as a reporter with tough-minded coverage of John McCain, has openly questioned whether Palin is giving short shrift to her disabled infant. (See the accompanying column.)
The chatter does Sarah Palin a real disservice. There is no evidence her family has ever stood in the way of her work — or vice versa. In fact, it's clear from Palin's record in Alaska that she's a formidable campaigner and an effective governor. You may disagree with her positions, but you have to acknowledge that she's gotten things done: a more rigorous ethics policy, higher taxes for the oil companies, plans for a new natural gas pipeline.
If she were a man, isn't that what we'd be talking about?
Sarah Palin first came to my attention thanks to a profile in Vogue last February. I was immediately charmed. Here, I thought, was a politician with a record of bucking the corruption of her own party. Here, too, was proof that women can succeed in politics without the coattails of a husband, Hillary Clinton-style.
Of course you should never fall in love with a politician: They always, ultimately, disappoint. In the process of Palin's national vetting, I will admit to flinching more than once. Now we know that, as a young mayor, Palin wanted to ban a book or two. Not cool. And now we know that she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. I can't stomach anything that reminds me of John Kerry; this particular flip-flop is no exception.
But ultimately, Sarah Palin seems pretty damn cool.
Really, it's silly to talk about Palin's lack of experience as long as Barack Obama tops the Democratic Party's ticket: Palin was running Wasilla before Obama was sworn into his first elected position, as an Illinois state senator.
And anyone who thinks mayors have it easy compared to state senators need only head down West Washington to check out our Capitol in action. Mayors suffer constant scrutiny; state senators have to take the heat only when they flame out, Jeff Groscost-style.
Palin, too, has a consistent record of taking on powerful interests. Chair of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she blew the whistle on the GOP fundraiser who used his position to make money for the party. When she ran for governor, she ran against the incumbent's corruption — angering the powers that be in Alaska even as she won the hearts of voters.
The left is obsessed with her opposition to abortion, but as governor, Palin's focus was on meat-and-potatoes economic stuff. She forced oil companies to pay more taxes. She also scuttled her predecessor's plan, plotted in the proverbial smoke-filled room, to subsidize a new natural gas pipeline to the tune of $4 billion. Governor Palin pushed through an alternate model that required gas companies to foot a far greater portion of the cost, with a subsidy of only $500 million. And though Palin refused to call a special session for a bill requiring parental consent for underage abortions, she called one for her pipeline plan — and won the Legislature's approval. (See "How Palin Beat Alaska's Establishment," in the September 5 Wall Street Journal.)
Despite endless media hype, the biggest scandal of Palin's governorship, an alleged attempt to get her brother-in-law fired, is a nonstarter. Since when is anyone in favor of state troopers Tasering their 10-year-old stepkids? Trust me, if we'd gotten word that Palin's brother-in-law pulled this stunt and she didn't do something about it, we'd all be questioning her judgment.
No wonder that at the time McCain selected her to be his veep, surveys put her popularity in Alaska at record-breaking levels. She did it all as the mother of four, then five, children.
In comparison, Barack Obama, the community organizer, failed so miserably that he fled the job for that perennial safe haven of smart kids in the middle class: law school. And that was as a single guy, with no familial responsibilities. Since then, the only work he's done as an executive is run his presidential campaign.
And we're supposed to worry about whether Sarah Palin can handle the job?
After more than a decade in politics, there's absolutely no evidence that Palin's work has suffered because of her family. I'd be concerned if whistleblowers came forward, alleging that Palin never showed up at the office. Or that she was so distracted by her kids, she accidentally vetoed a good bill. That would make her big brood relevant.
But nothing like that has surfaced. And it's not as if reporters aren't looking.
Indeed, the whisper campaign doesn't intimate so much that Palin will neglect her work so much as that it suggests she'll neglect her family. That's even more odious.
For one thing, it's almost impossible to disprove. (The kids are doing okay? How do we know they'll be okay in five years?)
For another, you wouldn't hear it said about a male politician. Think about Al Gore in 1992; he was the father of four kids, one of whom would end up getting busted repeatedly for drugged-out driving. Most recently, Al Gore III was caught driving 100 miles per hour with pot, Valium, Vicodin, and Adderall in his car. He had a prescription for none of the above. Have you ever heard anyone say Al Gore ought to stop barnstorming the world with his PowerPoints and take care of his boy? Or that the poor kid was driven to drugs because his daddy was too busy being veep during his formative years? Right.
Beyond that, the arguments about Sarah Palin's big family are wrong for another reason: They ignore the truth about big families.
Of course children aren't cheaper by the dozen. But in some ways, they are easier to raise — because, at some point, kids start raising each other.
I would know. I'm the second child in a family of five, which meant I started folding diapers at 3 and could change them by kindergarten. My mother never drove us to play groups, because we were our own play group. And though my older sister and I used to beg my parents to break down and buy a dishwasher already, they always just laughed.
"Why do we need a dishwasher?" they'd say. "We have you two." It wasn't a joke.
I was reminded of my family as I watched Sarah Palin's speech last week. As Palin introduced herself to the Republican delegates, she began to talk about her husband, Todd. Todd was holding baby Trig — but based on where the speech was headed, it was pretty clear Todd was going to have to stand up, and soon.
The modern woman in me, the part that assumes that all children under 12 need constant watching, wondered what the heck Todd was going to do with the infant. But the big-family part of me knew right away: Sitting next to Todd was a perfectly capable 6-year-old. And so, of course, Todd deposited the child right into another child's lap on national TV.
You wouldn't see that in a small family — or, I suspect, at the Democratic National Convention. There, a 6-year-old is a baby. There, too, they'd surely have the infant in an ergonomically designed stroller or, perhaps, watched by a Mandarin-speaking nanny, to prepare him for the global economy.
Not the Palins.
My parents used to have a Bible study in their house every week, and it was my job to keep my baby brother Adam quiet in his bedroom while the adults had their prayer meeting. I still remember my guilt when Adam, an ornery kid from day one, grabbed a crayon and bit off the end of it. How horribly embarrassed I was when he puked a suspiciously red waxy substance onto the carpet. And how bizarre, today, to realize how young I was at the time: 6 years old and the baby's life was in my hands.
But Adam survived (a teacher, he's recently been accepted for officer's training for the Marines). And of course I survived, if only because I never told my parents the truth about Adam's sudden bout of vomiting.
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It's the secret of all big families: Children are much less fragile than any of us realize.
Naturally, Trig Palin was okay after his dad handed him off to his 6-year-old sister. And as for that 6-year-old babysitter — well, Piper Palin was more than okay. You only had to watch her spit-combing her baby brother's hair that night to realize that a YouTube star was born . . . and that this little girl was ready for her moment in the spotlight.
She's going to be okay; Trig Palin is going to be okay. Heck, even pregnant Bristol Palin has options that most 17-year-old single moms can only dream of: chat with Diane Sawyer? Lucrative book deal? She's going to be okay, too.
There's no reason for Sarah Palin's very real accomplishments — ethics reform, new taxes assessed to Big Oil, natural gas pipeline plans — to be overshadowed by Nanny State-style "concern" for her family. The kids are all right. Let's talk about the future of the country.