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Category: Politics, Reproductive Rights

As GOP Convention Opens, the Palin Factor

| September 2, 2008

A crusader for abstinence and against abortion now finds herself squarely in the public eye with a teenage daughter who is five months pregnant.

That would be Sarah Palin, the conservative Alaska Republican governor who was chosen last week by John McCain to be his vice presidential running mate.

The headlines all day Monday on TV cable shows and on the blogs concerned the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol, along with constant replays of a euphoric Governor Palin with a somewhat somber Bristol by her side.

McCain insisted that he knew of Bristol’s pregnancy when he selected the governor—presumably, he was told in their sole face-to-face meeting last week.

Palin has been embraced by the Republican evangelicals who form a big chunk of the GOP today. They also generally supported Bristol’s pregnancy, and the fact that the governor and her husband Todd announced there would be a wedding between their daughter and her boyfriend and that they supported them wholeheartedly.

Many other Republicans were alarmed, however. Some talked about her withdrawing her candidacy, as newspapers and networks sent investigative reporters to Alaska. And as the McCain campaign also sent people to the state.

Since McCain’s shockwave announcement about choosing Palin, there has been a steady drip-drip-drip of unwelcome news.

Republicans never got to introduce Palin to the public at large on their own terms in the days after her announcement.

They had curbed their nominating convention due to a severe hurricane threatening New Orleans. Party leaders, including McCain, feared that a jubilant GOP convention would invoke disastrous memories of Hurricane Katrina’s decimation of New Orleans three years ago when the Republican White House was seen as indifferent and then inept in responding to the disaster. That started the downward slide in fortunes of the Republican Party, not just the presidency of George W. Bush.

So there were no Republican speakers attacking Barack Obama—or touting Sarah Palin. And in the vacuum, discoveries about her began to emerge helter-skelter.

The revelations may not be fatal. Republican delegates, who are disproportionately aligned with the religious right and thereby are overwhelmingly anti-abortion, rejoiced at Palin’s selection. They never had warmed to McCain and were prepared to revolt if he chose Joe Lieberman or Milt Romney as running mate. Palin was one of their own and, to many delegates, a familiar commodity who was slated to play a starring role at the convention with the Feminists for Life.

She was virtually unknown in the rest of the country, however. And critics began to ask by the weekend if McCain really knew all that much about her.

As David Gergen said, there is legal vetting and then there are political and media vettings, which are commonplace for anyone being named to high-visibility jobs.

McCain apparently opted for secrecy rather than a broad investigation into all-things-Palin. He kept the Palin choice under wraps with even many insiders caught by surprise. And he is suffering the ramifications.

The daily revelations included:

  • Questions about her qualifications from her home-state newspapers;
  • Details about the so-called “troopergate” issue where Palin and her top aides are accused of using political pressure to try to get a trooper fired who was in a nasty custody battle with Palin’s sister. An investigative panel is due to report in October;
  • The “bridge to nowhere” opposition, which McCain held up as part of her record as a reformer against corruption, including within the Republican Party where potent Alaskan politicians had backed that bridge. Turns out, she had supported that bridge earmark before she opposed it;
  • Her executive experience, including being in charge of the Alaska National Guard. The general who serves as adjutant of the Alaska National Guard said neither he nor Palin have any policy clout in dealing with the Guard;
  • Her Republican credentials. She may have supported Pat Buchanan, who challenged the GOP nominee in 2000.

The major furor, however, is Bristol’s pregnancy.

Palin has been an abstinence-only advocate, opposing sex education in schools.

This unplanned pregnancy led critics to talk about other Palin positions, including her backing for creationism to share equal billing with evolution in schools.

But some TV hosts, including CNN’s Campbell Brown, hammered away at a newly appointed veteran Republican now working with Palin, about the “family values” that prompted Palin to take on a high-profile role she knew would put her unwed, pregnant daughter smack in the national spotlight.

The new Palin spokesman, Tucker Eskew, said, in essence, that Palin had much to offer the country and insisted that the media consider her family off-limits, including her pregnant daughter.

Syndicated radio talk show host Stephanie Miller said it is an issue of hypocrisy, with Palin’s anti-abortion, pro-abstinence stance, coming from a Republican Party “that lectures others on their family values.”

Barack Obama refused to join that argument. He said he agreed with Palin that her family should be off limits. He also noted that his mother was 18 when he was born.

Meanwhile, a Gallup Poll asked Democratic women how Palin’s selection would affect their vote. Fifteen percent said it made them less likely to back McCain, with 9 percent saying they were more likely to support him.

A Rasmussen poll showed that Democratic men said, by a 41-35 percent margin, Palin was not ready to be president. Democratic women were far more vehement in saying she wasn’t ready for prime time by a 48-25 percent margin.

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