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Mary Lyon Headshot

Hurricane Sarah

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The Look-Before-You-Leap presidential campaign is at it again: "Do as I say, not as I do." It amuses and confuses me as I watch the Republican Party writhe and wriggle around in the mud. It's not so much the Gulf Coast hurricane wreckage in which they're mired, but in the dialogue (and probably their own wobbly and now-questionable convictions) that they're trying to manipulate about Sarah Palin, their "gently-vetted" VP nominee.

Um... WAS she vetted, at all, before her name was plucked from obscurity? Should the GOP have figured up advance evacuation plans for this swirling storm on their radar screens? They had disaster mechanisms in place for Hurricane Gustav, this time. What about for Hurricane Sarah?

A political party with such a powerful weathervane for conservative self-righteousness didn't see and failed to predict the gale-force winds that now seem to be blowing around Palin. The family-values darling brings quite a storm front with her - including a teenage daughter unmarried and five months pregnant. With her emergence onto the headlines a mere few days ago, she's already got at least one *-gate" - the abuse-of-power scandal called "Trooper-gate," and who knows what else, dogging her heels.

And that's just it. Who knows what else? What other baggage is this lady carrying? Did John McCain know? Did his staff do any kind of serious background check before catapulting her into the public eye, or did they stop merely when the ideology checked out? If he knew, was he hoping to keep it a secret? After all, a really good way to distract prying eyes from noticing a swollen young belly is to have that belly overshadowed by a four-month-old baby being carried in front of it, laid out on a very widespread receiving blanket. If McCain knew in advance, how long did he seriously believe it would be before the news leaked out? What does that say about his competence to make solid judgment calls if he didn't know, or about the purity of his intentions if he did know? Did he really put country first and his own campaign or political ambitions second or was he just trying to pull a fast one? Or was he simply in too big a hurry to rain on Barack Obama's parade the day after the DNC convention to care about making a critical executive decision in haste or shameless expedience?

Barack Obama was swift to step in and declare that private matters within a family are off-limits, but there's a larger issue here. First of all, no one is twisting Sarah Palin's arm and forcing her to join the Republican ticket against her will. She has stepped into this one voluntarily. And when you willingly stick your neck out like this, you're truly playing with the biggest of the big boys - and big girls. You become public property, especially if you presume to want to govern the public, accept a paycheck from the public, and set and pursue policies that will impact the public in matters that affect their own private lives. It goes with the territory whether you like it or not. The public owns you. ALL the public - supporters and opponents alike.

Chelsea Clinton became public domain when she was a teenager living with her parents in the White House. Her mom and dad asked the media to respect her privacy, even while very public personae from Rush Limbaugh to some guy named McCain defied that request, making it their business to honk and cat call and make mean-spirited jokes about her looks. Nobody in the Republican Party got too upset about that. But at the same time, Bill and Hillary Clinton weren't preaching from every rooftop about what is moral and what isn't, or sanctimoniously setting themselves on public pedestals of parental perfection. The GOP, by contrast, has been doing nothing but that, first with McCain-the-Untouchable-POW, and now with Palin, Ms. Supermom-America 2008.

But this is NOT off-limits. We, the public, have every right to discuss this and other scandals that may come up, in full, in the sunlight and open air, and dig up the facts on our own if the mainstream media won't. As George W. Bush once said, "it's your money." Damn right. It IS our money Sarah Palin will be playing with, and our money that will fund her Vice Presidential salary, health benefits, residence, staff, travel, security, and other perks, if she and McCain win the election. It's our money about which she would be advising McCain, lobbying for the way it's spent and redistributed. If the McCain/Palin ticket triumphs in November, they both become our employees, and as bosses, we have every right and indeed a responsibility not to stay in the dark while they take our money and act in our name. Who they are, how they live, what they claim to be, with what and whom they surround themselves, and how that bears upon their leadership potential is absolutely our business. ALL of it. If the GOP wins, McCain/Palin would become our faces to the rest of the world. With all these questionable issues on their record, we're already talking two-faced.

It is well worth discussing what kind of hypocrisy we're being asked to tolerate or ignore - from a self-proclaimed pro-life hardliner who pushes abstinence-only education. Character counts, especially for members of the party that makes everything a character issue. The way Palin runs her personal life is therefore relevant when her own teenage daughter (who by Alaskan state law is deemed of age and therefore a legally-defined big girl) becomes the poster child of the failure of Mom's preferred educational emphasis. At 17, Bristol Palin has already reached the age of consent in Alaska, and will soon marry her baby's father, we're told. Her age makes her a legally-defined big girl, too. It is reasonable to question what kind of role model Palin really is, and what social dictates she'd try to impose as Vice President with this background of hers in mind, particularly since she's made morality part of her campaign profile. How can she claim to be a leader on family values when her own family looks like it's angling to star in the next chaotic MTV reality show?

It's also completely fair game to question how well she'd be able to manage duties the size and scope of the Vice President of the United States, much less the rigors of a campaign for same. Even more critical, she would be a single 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency - which makes it even more relevant. These are extraordinary stakes. With that large, complicated, and demanding a family including the littlest one with special needs who'll be pulling at her attention around the clock, could Sarah Palin truly be ready for that proverbial 3am phone call? I'd suspect she'd probably be up already, but with an entirely different agenda on her mind at that hour. That's multitasking on a whole different level. I had to downshift considerably in my own life after a few years of working motherhood, and I only have two kids. Besides, I wasn't aspiring toward the second most powerful job in the world.

Like it or not, women are fully invested in the game now, downsides included. All those years fighting for equal treatment mean you don't demand special handling or the waiving of rules. For the kind of job she wants, Palin and her advisors should be ready and willing to face ANY questioning that comes. Palin is the second female VP hopeful in our history, in the same year when we came thisclose to having the first female candidate for president. Rightly or wrongly, women are still stereotypically viewed as wearing many hats. If you're married and have a large family with whom you pride yourself as being hands-on, as Palin is, that's part of you and part of the package you bring with you into the public arena. And it's part of what the public has a right to vet closely. If it starts to get a little hot, you still face up to it like a grown- up - of either gender - and accept responsibility without excuses or whining that something might be off limits because you're beyond being questioned. If something's uncomfortable, you bite your lip and just cope with it like a professional.

As a citizen, voter, and taxpayer, I have a right to make sure my interests have my vice president's full attention at all times. I've heard the complaints that it's sexist to factor Palin's family into her ambitions. That you wouldn't hold a man's feet to the fire in the same way. That it's none of our business. And that we wouldn't be asking some male in her position the same questions and prying into his personal life. Oh, certainly not. Just ask Bill Clinton about having his privacy probed. He was operating on the public's time, and dime, so it was fair game. And if it was fair game for him, the same applies to Palin and McCain as they aspire to that level of public office. Repeat - PUBLIC office. Nothing private about it, at least not anymore. And you can thank the GOP and its attack-dog affiliates for that particular game-changer. They've spent a few decades by now sharpening their discourse in favor of their entitlement to intrude into our private lives. Since when should theirs remain private?

The Republicans have reworked their entire convention around Hurricane Gustav. Perhaps they should have attended to a little more emergency preparedness for Hurricane Sarah before they took off into the clouds at full throttle. Too bad nobody cared to spend much time studying the weather forecast beforehand.


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