Sorry, Barack, But It Matters to Me

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

I was sitting in front of the television, feeling good and ashamed of myself.

Between loads of laundry, I had been calling all my Democratic friends to deconstruct McCain's choice of Sarah Palin and figure out how her teenage daughter's pregnancy would affect voters in November.

And frankly, as the mother of two bright, successful and (so far as I know) non-pregnant young women, I was feeling pretty darn superior. Smug, even.

Then Barack Obama stood up in the September sunshine, stated flatly that "People's families are off-limits," and promised to fire anybody on his staff who tried to make political hay of the Palin's family situation. For a few minutes, I felt like a complete jerk.

Then I thought - hey, wait a minute. A few days ago, the Republicans were telling Americans that they should support Sarah Palin as vice president because she's a hockey mom who consciously and courageously chose to give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome (a decision I deeply admire, by the way.)

But when she announces that her 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant, that's not supposed to affect my opinion of Sarah Palin's character and judgment?

Look - these things happen in the best of families. And most of the time, when I hear that one of my daughters' friends is pregnant, my first honest thought is usually, "There but for the grace of God..."

But this time, I was frankly appalled. Sarah Palin must have known, when she agreed to become John McCain's running mate, that her pregnant daughter's privacy would shredded by the news media. She must have known that her daughter - and her future son-in-law - would face blistering international scrutiny at one of the most stressful and difficult times of their young lives.

As a mother myself, I feel fully justified in looking at Sarah Palin differently today than I did yesterday. Her politically ambitious decision at a time of family crisis tells me a great deal about her judgment and her priorities.

Look - the GOP can't have it both ways. When the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton on the charge of being a disastrous husband, they justified their salacious snooping into details of the President's sex life on the grounds that it was a "character issue," and the electorate had a right to know. But we didn't. We knew Clinton had a zipper problem when we elected him - twice. We voted for his policies, not his (highly flexible) commitment to his marriage vows.

On the other hand, I'm not generally a huge fan of Joe Biden. (Sorry, Barack.) But it tells me something about Joe Biden's character and priorities that, after his first wife's tragic death, he commuted daily from Wilmington, Delaware to Washington, D.C. so he could be a frontline parent to his two sons. Does being a devoted father make Joe Biden qualified to be vice-president - and, if necessary, president? Not really. But I'm impressed by the effort he put into balancing his responsibility to his constituents and his commitment to his children.

Take John Edwards - please. What level of self-delusion does it take for a man to present himself to voters as the strong, supportive spouse of a brave and beautiful woman with cancer - only to slink off to make whoopee with a wacky woman who re-christened herself Rielle? I'm sorry - there are severe judgment deficits in any public servant who would hook up with a woman whose fast-lane lifestyle shocked Jay McInerney.

Ultimately, Barack is absolutely right: As voters, we have no right to stick our noses into the private lives of the candidates' families.

But here's a warning to every politician whose campaign mailer features a picture-perfect family beaming brightly at the camera: If you're asking us to vote for you just because you're a wholesome soccer mom or a devoted family man, you're inviting us to pry into the lives of everyone in that family portrait. And as a mother myself, I think that's a huge mistake.