Oh, there are all sorts of reasons Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain's Twilight Zone vice-presidential pick, could finish off the professional POW's malingering presidential hopes, but her unwed daughter's pregnancy probably isn't one of them. Or rather, voters who list that as one of their top reasons for rejecting her probably were sour on the ticket before that news was dropped at the Republican National Convention -- denied that easy out, they would have relied on some other gender-based objection to having a female "one heartbeat away" -- or more likely, one stroke away -- from one of the most powerful offices in the world.
While I'm not sympathetic to Mrs. Palin personally -- if her tenure as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, is any indication, she's tailor made for a party that fires governmental employees for their personal political beliefs; live by the litmus test, die by the litmus test -- I'm sorry for every young woman who must stare through a glass ceiling darkly at the double standards unscathed by three-plus decades of modern feminism. Just one example: Joe Biden, Obama's veep selection, is lauded for raising his young sons alone when his first wife died shortly after he was elected to the Senate while critics question whether a married mother has time to serve as vice president, much less president. (From the photos I've seen, Mr. Palin certainly looks capable of cooking, cleaning, and driving the carpool. He's a four-time champion of the Iron Dog, for god's sake, the world's "longest snowmachine race." Take that, Mr. Thatcher.)
So while the varying responses to news that the Palin household has its very own unplanned teen pregnancy was greeted with overt glee in some liberal corners, I'm just sad. Sad for Bristol, sad for the baby, sad for all the inanity now burbling forth from the chattering classes like so much formula upchuck. I missed being an unwed teen mother by a month. Thirty-seven days after I turned 20, I gave birth to my daughter. Today she's a resiliant, independent young adult, and some of that's probably due to things it's fun to joke about now, but were wildly stressful at the time: Adding up the grocery bill down to the pennies while we shopped, putting 50 cents of gas in the car, washing the kids' underwear in the sink and drying them in the gas oven.
I say kids, because I did it twice, adding an adorable baby boy to the mix four years later, much to my middle-class Catholic parents' mortification. (Just like Bristol"s parents, there's probably not much blame to lay at their feet, although my folks, like many a religious conservative, were fans of the wildly optimistic abstinence-only sex ed.) But here's the thing: As much as it occasionally sucked to be a single parent -- socially, financially, romantically -- I was able to make the choice to have my kids, so while every blue moon or so I regret educational, job, or adventure paths not taken while they were young, I've never resented my kiddos. Neither has ever asked me, but if they did, I could look them in their eyes and say, yes, you were unplanned, but you weren't unwanted. (Now go pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the laundry; I'm not your personal maid.)
That's the essence of reproductive choice, and it's probably not available to Bristol Palin -- we'll never know for sure if she really decided on her own to keep the baby and get hitched to the father. Nor, if John McCain/Sarah Palin are elected on November 4, would the foundation of a generation of women's achievements necessarily be available to our daughters and granddaughters. When the McCain camp tapped Palin on the heels of Hillary and Bill Clinton's persuasive Denver bow-out, like many people my initial reaction was that McCain and his handlers think political T&A is interchangeable (and they probably did figure that a woman might net them a few disenchanted Hillary supporters, but those are folks who couldn't tell you the difference between Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas). But it's clear now that Palin's real value is to energize the religious-conservative base that carried Bush into the White House -- the same people who brought you the Justice Department firing scandal and Gitmo, who cooked a governmental report on Global Warming, who made WMDs a running joke, who've sent thousands of young men and women to die in an unjustified war, who would like nothing more than to add to the Scalia-Roberts-Thomas wing of the Supreme Court -- and who are apparently unrepentant about the last eight years of anti-American policies at home and abroad. And for that reason alone -- not Bristol Palin+1, whose lives seems destined to be scripted like a latter-day Steve Martin family comedy for the foreseeable future -- we need to send Palin back to the land of the midnight sun.