Sarah Louise Heath Palin, Governor of Alaska who has been in office less than two years and before that was mayor of Wasilla, population 8,000 plus, for two two-year terms years, is John McCain’s choice for his vice-presidential nominee (at least for the time being—London bookies are giving 8 to 1 odds, down from 20 to 1 over the weekend, that she will soon be off the ticket). Why did McCain choose her? Clearly, it wasn’t for her national security credentials or readiness to be president. So what were his likely reasons?
Well, put yourself in his position. In a party that basically now consists almost entirely of outright freaks, McCain had a pretty narrow range of choice. Think only of his fellow Republican presidential aspirants in the past primary season, at least the ones you can still remember. McCain despises Mitt Romney, the runner-up, and rightly, for being the odious, two-faced charlatan that he is, a man who once said that he was more liberal on abortion rights than Ted Kennedy in order to get elected in Massachusetts and now says he is adamantly anti-choice. Mike Huckabee, the next in line, is an evangelical minister who thinks the last days are at hand, and once pardoned a rapist, it is believed, because his victim was Bill Clinton’s cousin (see “Forgiveness, Gubernatorial,” in You Don’t Know Me). Ron Paul, the third highest vote getter, thinks almost the entire federal government, including the defense establishment, should be dismantled.
So how does Sarah Palin, clearly an eccentric herself, fit the bill? Well, first of all, of course, she is a woman, and McCain and other Republican leaders entertain the notion that disappointed Hillary supporters will vote for any woman put up for high office, even an inexperienced right-wing nut case. But second, she appeals to the so-called “base” because she is a “family values” conservative who is married with five children and opposes abortion, opposes premarital sex and sex education, opposes gun control, and thinks that creationism should be taught in the schools. McCain’s two top choices for the VP spot, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman and moderate Republican ex-Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge, were eliminated precisely because they depart from the family values line, supporting abortion rights and tolerance for gays.
According to the New York Times, Palin first ran for mayor of Wasilla on an anti-abortion, pro-family values platform—a platform irrelevant to the nitty-gritty issues of small town governance—using the slogan “We will have our first Christian mayor,” against an incumbent whose name was Joel C. Stein (he is a Lutheran).
So what are Sarah Palin’s family values, as we know them, as of now? Let’s take this woman’s family values measure.
—-We have just been told that her seventeen-year old daughter, Bristol, is five-months pregnant. There are some who don’t think this story is true, believing instead that Sarah Palin’s four-month old son Trig, who has Down’s syndrome, is actually Bristol’s child, and that this current pregnancy has been cooked up to negate that rumor. For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter which version is true: Either way, Bristol had premarital sex and got pregnant out of wedlock. Sarah herself was with child when she married her husband, so she too had premarital sex resulting in pregnancy. Like mother like daughter: Neither hewed to the exalted path of abstinence. Governor Palin, like John McCain, is an advocate of abstinence-only education programs in high schools.
According to the Washington Post, earlier this year Governor Palin used her line-item veto to reduce funding by 20 percent for an Alaska program benefiting homeless teen mothers. And the Associated Press reports that both McCain and Palin have opposed government funding to prevent teen pregnancy.
—-When her husband’s step-mother, her step-mother-in-law, ran for the mayoral seat she was vacating, Sarah Palin opposed her candidacy and supported her opponent instead. Why? Because her step-mother was openly pro-choice, and her opponent explicitly anti-choice. Sarah violated the family value of loyalty, in order to uphold another family value conservatives like to call the “sanctity of human life.” Was this, so to speak, the right choice? (She could have remained professionally neutral or silent or supported her step-mother with reservation, abortion not being an issue mayors have to deal with). I report—you decide.
—–In another circumstance, Sarah demonstrated what may turn out to have been, legally, an excessive and unwise degree of family loyalty. Most likely acting with the Governor’s knowledge and connivance, her husband and a member of her staff tried to pressure the Alaska commissioner of public safety to fire her sister’s state trooper husband, with whom her sister was engaged in a bitter divorce battle. When he refused to do so, Governor Palin fired him. A state legislative committee is investigating the ethical implications of this firing (Palin claims it was carried out for other reasons), and Palin has hired a private attorney to help her deal with investigation.
—-Have conservatives (I always want to write “self-professed” or “purported” or “putative” or “self-described” or “alleged,” but that would get tiresome) criticized mothers who leave their young children in day-care or the care of relatives so they can stay in the workplace, or am I imagining that? An interesting article in the New York Times (“A New Twist In the Debate Over Mothers,” NYT, Tuesday, September 2), raised questions about Palin aspiring to take on the job of Vice-President (or even Governor) when she has five children at home, one with Down syndrome and one now (allegedly) pregnant. In the article there was pointed criticism of Palin on this score from women on both sides of the partisan divide, though, strangely enough (or not), most religious conservatives supported her.
“When I read that her special-needs child was three days old when she went back to work, I knew that is not someone who would put what is right for the people first,” said Pamela Moore, a mother of two from Birmingham, Alabama, an independent. “A mother of a four-month-old infant with Down syndrome taking up full-time campaigning? Not my value set,” said Sarah Robertson, a mother of four from Kennebunk, Maine, one of the few evangelical Christians to criticize Palin in the article. “(She is) essentially outsourcing her duties as a mother for personal political gain.” Others interviewed wondered why Palin had not turned down the offer of vice-presidential candidate in order to spare Bristol the embarrassing public scrutiny.
And who from the (so-called) conservative movement spoke out most prominently in support of Palin? Why, none other than Phyllis Schlafly, the mother of all family values Republicans, who spearheaded the fight to defeat the equal rights amendment in the ’70s. “I think a hard-working, well-organized C.E.O. type can handle it very well,” she told the Times.
Are there any of their professed values, family or otherwise, that the current crop of Republican politicians and others flattering themselves with the term “conservative” will actually hold to when the acquisition of political power is at stake?
More on this later, but for now the short answer is: No, there aren’t.
WIN McCORMACK is the publisher and editor in chief of Tin House magazine. He resides in Portland, Oregon. His book, You Don’t Know Me: A Citizen’s Guide to Republican Family Values is available now from Tin House Books.