Monday, September 1, 2008
The Impact of Bristol Palin's Pregnancy
I barely got a few hours' sleep after posting my defense of Sarah Palin as Vice President and mother, when I hear the news that she will add GRANDmother to her resume. Her daughter Bristol, 17, five months pregnant, will have what used to be called a "shotgun wedding." The Palins' announcement said they're "proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents."
I wouldn't have phrased it that way. I looked at the almost 200 comments on CNN's website following the breaking story, and needless to say, they're scathing (and probably from McCain foes, anyway). It doesn't say much for the Palins' parenting that her daughter and boyfriend not only couldn't wait but couldn't effectively use birth control. "Abstinence Only" sex ed looks pretty lame. The power of religious faith as a determinant of behavior also fails. I think the announcement hurts the ticket.
Some people could say it "humanizes" the goody-two-shoes VP nominee. She was already human when she was coping with a Down Syndrome baby and not her daughter's baby, too. There are lots of families where a teen gets pregnant and proceeds through the pregnancy. Not too many where the 17-year-old marries the dad rather than putting the child up for adoption. It's not just the pregnancy that's the problem, it's the forced teenage marriage, even if Bristol IS madly in love with Levi. The Palins aren't just "becoming grandparents," which is indeed a source of pride for most families--they're becoming grandparents of a child born three months or less after their high-school daughter's marriage. They'll have to give their consent for their child to wed.
Ronald Reagan had a similar situation, with Patty born 7 1/2 months arfter he married Nancy, but neither bride nor groom were still in high school. It's true that having babies out of wedlock has lost its stigma, and that in some locales remaining a virgin in high school is considered hopelessly geeky, but we're not talking about just any family here--we're talking about the one John McCain picked to place in the limelight and applaud.
I'm still enthused about Sarah Palin, and I think her daughter's pregnancy is not a deal-breaker and will fade in the public's mind in the next few weeks. The good news is that Bristol won't give birth until after the election, and in the meantime, she'll quietly...grow. Or maybe NOT quietly; she may choose to campaign for her mom with her new husband by her side, and perhaps that's an even better option.
Because the message that "when life hands you lemons you make lemonade" adds to Sarah Palin's "we'll face it and stand up to it" straightforwardness, which is perhaps her most ingratiating feature. She's a hunter, a runner, fearless fighter of corruption and now, a grandmom. All nice adjectives but the key in this campaign will be her ability to stand up to the press's grillings in knowledge and quick-thinking wisdom. That may be a far bigger challenge.