Off Limits

One of the classiest moments of Bill Clinton’s political career occurred in the middle of the 1992 general election. After weeks of battling “bimbo eruptions,” the press was starting to pick up on rumors about George H. W. Bush’s mistress. In response, Mr. Clinton said, “I didn’t like it when people said it about me and I don’t like it when people say it about him.” End of story. True or not, the rumors died there.

Barack Obama has committed a similarly classy act. As the headlines filled with stories about Sarah Palin’s pregnant, unwed 17-year-old daughter, Mr. Obama said, “Families are off limits.”

He’s right. Families should be off limits. Whatever one’s opinions are about teen sex, Bristol Palin never asked to have anything other than a private life. Whatever she’s done or she chooses to do, those events have nothing to do with our quadrennial discussion of how best to chart the course of our nation.

Like Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama’s statement – and his desire to stick to the principle he expressed – are doubly classy, in that his wife Michelle has not been given similar respectful treatment by John McCain’s campaign. The Republican Party and its minions at Fox tee vee can find nothing to criticize in this woman, so they make up lies – “terrorist fist bump,” “baby mama,” attempts to put words in her mouth that were never there. They are lies; untruths each more bitter and cynical than the last.

Michelle Robinson Obama is an American we should all be proud of. Born to a working-class family, she – like her husband – climbed into the ranks of influence and power through hard work. To be sure, both Obamas benefited from the help of affirmative action programs, but their biographies stand as testimony to the value of such programs. Giving minority students the chance to achieve not only fulfills their American dream; it makes our country stronger and more resilient.

We, as voters, should evaluate Sarah Palin as we should any politician seeking higher office. Her track record is not long, but her trajectory is clear. As we approach the most crucial energy policy debate in the planet’s history, Ms. Palin would lead us deeper into our catastrophic addiction to fossil fuels. She supposedly “took on the oil companies.” The challenge she mounted was not to push for clean, renewable sources of energy, but to give a bigger slice of the cash to Alaskans.

She supposedly opposed the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” but she was for it before she was against it and in the autumn of 2005, when so many in Congress were calling for those wasted millions to be diverted from Alaska pork to hurricane relief on the Gulf coast, Ms. Palin – and Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young – selfishly demanded that the $223 million in federal money stay in Alaska, and so it did.

Speaking of Messrs. Stevens and Young, Mr. Stevens has been indicted for accepting inappropriate gifts (bribes, really) from oil lobbyists and Mr. Young has been under investigation for similar offenses for over a year. They are, however, the Alaska Republican Party’s nominees for the fall election. Ms. Palin campaigns under the banner that she “took on corruption in her own party.” Will she now, on the national stage, disavow her party fellows?

There are the charges that Ms. Palin, in the two public offices she has held – small-town mayor and governor – abused her authority to pursue political and personal vendettas. There is Todd Palin, the candidate’s husband, who for several years was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates secession from the United States. Although Mr. Palin is not running for office, the political (rather than personal) decisions of one’s spouse, reflect on the candidate. Witness the lead-weight effect of the sleazy business deals of Geraldine Ferraro’s husband.

And then there is the question of values. Just as Bristol Palin’s life should be off limits, so should the decisions Sarah and Todd Palin make as parents. As a public official, Ms. Palin opposed federal funding for sex education in public schools. At this late date, it should be clear that sex education in schools can help teens make informed choices about their lives, avoids unwed and/or unwanted pregnancies.

Closing one’s eyes to the facts of life and hoping for the best is not an effective strategy for avoiding pregnancy or living in the world today. When it comes to Sarah Palin, voters should not close their eyes.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

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