The Democrats now know they have their hands full with Sarah Palin. If there was any doubt that the self proclaimed "hockey mom" governor of Alaska could hold her own in the national political arena, it was dispelled by her performance at the Republican National Convention.
So it can be expected that her opponents and the media’s efforts to discredit her even beyond her perceived lack of experience will take on new vigor.
We all should be able to agree that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is irrelevant to her mother’s fitness to become vice president, even if Bristol is just 17. Even Barack Obama, whose mother was the same age when she became pregnant with him, says so. Bristol stood radiantly with her boyfriend and the rest of Palin’s decidedly handsome family as her mother electrified the convention hall and lit up millions upon millions of television screens across the nation Thursday night.
Teenage motherhood is not uncommon, even at a time when several varieties of contraception are available on the shelves of nearly every pharmacy in America, abstinence is preached regularly and major motion pictures have titles like "Knocked Up." Hormones will be hormones.
Actually, it hasn’t been too long ago that one’s grandmother probably had her first baby between 17 and 20 years old when millions of young Americans got married right out of high school, some already in a family way as my own grandmother would have put it. So the disclosure that Bristol is in her fifth month of expecting is, as we say in the news business, a nonstarter, certainly not worth the headlines it has generated.
The same can be said of several other screaming revelations that fall into the irrelevant category in the few days since John McCain’s mold-breaking decision to name little known Palin as his running mate. This includes the hardly startling fact that her husband, a rugged outdoor type, was arrested for Driving Under the Influence 20 years ago, a report that should prompt a "there but the grace of God" assessment from a large percentage of Americans in their youth. This probably includes the person or persons who decided it was worth bringing to our attention.
Sadly, the feeding frenzy of the modern media has resulted in some ugly, utterly unsubstantiated journalism (I use the word loosely) on the Internet where vicious, sharp- toothed rumormongers and "gotcha" assassins lurk around every blog site. Take for instance the sleazy slander that her Down syndrome baby boy may not actually be hers but Bristol’s, despite the fact Palin’s pregnancy was obvious to everyone around her, and the completely erroneous report she once was a member of an Alaska party that favored seceding from the Union. The person responsible for the latter piece of information admitted she had made a mistake.
Much of what is occurring is driven by the fact that her selection not only caught us off guard but also defied the conventional wisdom about what qualifications are needed to serve a step away from the Oval Office. The Democrats, after all, followed the usual prescription, choosing a running mate for Barack Obama who was familiar and safe and comfortable with the media. Joe Biden had been vetted from hell to breakfast over more than 30 years in the U.S. Senate. No mystery about him. Never mind that as a denizen of Washington, he seemed out of step with Obama’s campaign of bringing change to the nation’s capital.
Palin couldn’t have offered a sharper contrast. McCain saw her as an opportunity to reinforce his maverick Republican image after being dissuaded from selecting his friend Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat/ Independent who ran with Al Gore in 2000. Thus far he has not been disappointed.
The danger with irrelevances is their potential cumulative impact. Palin has built a successful political career by refusing to kowtow to the establishment. She has stepped on any number of toes, causing some embarrassing failures among Alaska’s longtime political elite. She is bound to have enemies.
Palin and Biden will have one debate during the campaign. He may be in for a long night. This is beginning to look like far less of a gamble for McCain than most of us thought.
One can only hope that the debate over her worthiness focuses on the true issues and not on trashy and irrelevant allegations including some of the difficulties every parent has in raising a large family. Standing by her daughter and counseling her to have the baby rather than an abortion is not only faithful to her own beliefs, it is also frankly none of our business.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)