10/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Born Identity

To borrow a line from a literary character who's suddenly thrust into a hallucinatory world where insanity is the norm, the whole Sarah Palin thing is becoming curiouser and curiouser.

Two weeks ago, Palin was a political nobody, a former Miss Congeniality turned small-town mayor turned governor of a state with a higher moose population than human; last week she became a shockingly underqualified vice presidential candidate, a clever election-year gimmick with no experience in foreign policy or homeland security who insists she's ready to take the reins of our nation should anything happen to her 72-year-old running-mate once in office; this week, Sarah Palin is all of these things plus a grandmother-to-be -- the result of her 17-year-old daughter's apparent unwillingness to abide by mom's heavily-promoted "abstinence only" stance -- and a lightning rod drawing one fresh jolt of controversy after another.

So particularly in light of this latest disclosure, the question has to be asked: How deep is the McCain camp's reservoir of spin?

Not only are aides for John McCain swearing that Sarah Palin -- whom McCain had met in person only once before deciding that she was his political "soul mate" some time last week -- was fully and properly vetted, McCain himself is now saying that he knew about the child 17-year-old Bristol Palin was carrying when he chose the teen's mother as his running-mate. To say that this seems like flat-out garbage is an understatement; it's doubtful a seasoned political veteran like McCain, knowing what was at stake, would've taken the chance that the very Evangelicals he'd hoped to entice with Palin might instead revolt at word of an unsanctioned teen pregnancy in her family. It was a crazy enough gamble that the public would be willing to overlook Palin's inexperience and even naivete; I can't imagine McCain wanting to raise the stakes even further by throwing another potentially poisonous variable into the mix. Besides, Palin's personal aides were deflecting reports of the pregnancy as recently as two days ago, meaning that they either knew about it and chose to lie (which, if you believe the official word, would've meant that McCain was sitting idly by as they did it) or McCain knew something that Palin's own people were unaware of (which seems highly improbable).

The more likely scenario? That McCain's people were as surprised as everyone else by this little revelation.

Which means that McCain is lying his ass off about knowing all along that Palin's daughter was pregnant; he's simply trying to make the best of an increasingly bad situation.

Please understand something: I couldn't care less what Bristol Palin does in the bedroom or with whom she does it. Although I'm like most people in thinking that teens aren't generally emotionally equipped for the responsibility of parenthood, unlike Sarah Palin, I don't think that premarital sex is a sin and that the ones who willfully engage in it have to answer to God, whose laws they've supposedly violated. It's absolutely true that a pregnancy, even one involving a 17-year-old, is a family matter. What makes it relevant in this case, however, is the hypocrisy that it exposes: Sarah Palin is a politician who believes that it's perfectly acceptable to impress her spiritual beliefs upon others via legislation -- intelligent design education, pro-life policy, etc. -- which means that when one of those beliefs can be proven false simply by looking two feet to her left in a family photograph, it needs to be pointed out. Sarah Palin shouldn't be allowed to righteously proclaim that abstinence-only education works for your children when it obviously didn't work for her own.

Applying the kind of faulty two-wrongs-make-a-right logic that's de rigeur among the religious, Sarah Palin is now attempting to mitigate the news of Bristol's unfortunate situation by -- wait for it -- announcing that, at the very least, her new grandchild won't be subjected to a life of illegitimacy. An official statement released this afternoon reads, "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they'll have the love and support of our entire family." If you found yourself involuntarily stressing the word "will" as you read that -- or maybe imagining six large crowbar-wielding Eskimos quietly paying a visit to the hapless new dad to tell him the good news about his upcoming nuptials -- you're not alone. Remember: This is a woman willing to pursue the second highest office in the land despite having recently said that she doesn't know what a vice president does and regardless of the fact that she has, among other things, a four-month-old baby with Down's Syndrome to take care of. There's no goddamned way she's letting a kid who can't keep it in his pants threaten her shot at the brass ring.

But while Bristol Palin's pregnancy, in and of itself, isn't a reason for John McCain's political enemies to sharpen their knives, the manner in which Sarah Palin went public -- or, rather, was forced to -- should leave them penning a few tough questions for their phalanx of surrogates.

According to a McCain spokesperson, Palin decided to announce this blessed event to quell an internet rumor that Bristol, not she, was the real mother of her four-month-old child, Trig, the aforementioned Down's Syndrome infant. So, to be clear: Sarah Palin tells the world that her teenage daughter is pregnant to prevent everyone from thinking that her teenage daughter was pregnant. She's hoping that the time discrepancy as she claims it (she says that Bristol is five months along, meaning the teen would've conceived a month before the birth of Trig) proves that she wasn't involved in any kind of cover-up. But that begs the question: If Bristol Palin is now more than halfway through her pregnancy and almost no one knew about it, why? What was stopping Sarah Palin from divulging this information and how long did she intend to keep it from the public -- particularly the "values voters," for whom a teen pregnancy "scandal" might be enough to affect their decision at the polls. Had the conspiracist whispers about alleged sleight-of-hand within the Palin family not arisen, would Sarah Palin have tried to wait it out and keep Bristol's condition a secret until after election day? And for that matter, why confront the rumor at all? Why make a startling and possibly problematic disclosure as a response to an ostensibly groundless innuendo that most people hadn't heard about anyway? Why dignify it with a response at all, least of all one that goes way out on a limb to offer proof to the contrary?

Although Barack Obama has graciously declared the topic of the Palin pregnancy off-limits in terms of haymaking, the Democrats should be wary of pretending that the uncertainties surrounding the situation and how it all contrasts with Palin's own politics don't exist. For too long, the Democrats have assumed that voters would ask the right questions and know bullshit when they smelled it; that damn sure hasn't been the case throughout the last eight years. While the current controversies swirling around Sarah Palin range from the serious ("Troopergate"; her role as the director of wildly corrupt senator Ted Stevens's 527 fundraising group) to the sublime (when asked in 2006 if she was offended by the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, she replied, "If it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me,"*) the right-wing fundamentalist dogma which often drives her legislative thought process makes a revelation like this one fair game to a certain extent. Obviously, it would be inadvisable to appear to be bullying toward Palin, but it's equally ill-advised to fall into the trap of handling her with, if you'll pardon the pun, kid gloves.

She may be John McCain's bad decision, but she chose to go along for the ride; she's just as responsible -- or irresponsible -- in this debacle.

Sarah Palin doesn't deserved to be railroaded, but what she does deserve is something the McCain camp apparently never bothered with.

She deserves to be properly vetted.

(*For those who don't get the joke, the Pledge of Allegiance was first published in 1892, nowhere near the time of the Founding Fathers; what's more, the line "under God" wasn't added to it until 1954 as a response to Soviet Communism, which was seen as godless.)

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