It's springtime in Wasilla, and the air must be very thin indeed. Yesterday, Bristol Palin was announced as a new national ambassador for the teenage abstinence organization, Candies. No, there's no punch line. Given the regularity with which the various members of Alaska's gothic first family, both indicted and unindicted, have appeared in the news since Mrs. Palin's failed run for vice president last fall (turning the American media into their own personal haunted house in the process) yesterday's news of Bristol's new role was more like turning the dial to a reality show and seeing familiar cast member who has inexplicably not as yet been voted off Pop Culture Island.
OK, I have to ask: How on earth does Bristol Palin find time to fly around singing the praises of sexual abstinence, between pursuing that elusive high school diploma and caring for the son she and Levi Johnston had as...well...teenagers not practicing sexual abstinence? And second of all, why is the daughter of Alaska's increasingly unpopular governor still in the news at all?
Cynic that I am, I confess that my first thought was, Bristol Palin is the last person on earth anyone would want as a poster girl for "abstinence education" for several reasons besides the obvious one.
For one thing, her pregnancy was the most glaring proof that the theocratic moral agenda her mother was so hellbent to impose on everyone else's family didn't even work in her own family.
For another, there has been no apparent downside to the out-of-wedlock birth of her son which by all accounts has been a joy for the entire family. As a textbook example of an accidental pregnancy gone right, what is Bristol, who is supported both emotionally and financially by her family, going to tell the girls she lectures to? "Well yes, I had a baby and I wasn't married, but it was a blessing. We all look after the baby, and the whole family loves him, and they all help out. But---don't get pregnant. It'll be a disaster for YOU!" Or, better still, is she going to continue to say it on television, made up like a teen idol and styled to the hilt, with her handsome father sitting beside bouncing his beautiful grandson on his knee? And this presents an accurate portrait of the consequences of teenage pregnancy how, exactly? What's the message? Where's the deterrent?
On February 18th of this year, Bristol told FOX news that abstinence was "not realistic." Today, clearly having learned at the knee of the master, she claims the quote was "taken out of context." In the same interview, Governor Palin said she was "proud of her daughter" for "wanting to take on an advocacy role, and, you know, just let other girls know that this is -- it's not the most ideal situation, but certainly, make the most of it. And Bristol is a strong and bold young woman and she is an amazing mom. And this little baby is very lucky to have her as a mama. He's going to be just fine."
All very touching, like a commercial for someone planning to run for president in four years who wants to make sure the family values folks know she's still standing shoulder to shoulder with them against the foe. See folks? We're still here, and we're still just a family of Joe Sixpacks tryin' ta do the right thing. Yoo betcha!
That, of course, was back when Levi Johnson was still Miss Palin's "fiancé," and Mrs. Palin's followers were still caught up in the romance of the wedding Mrs. Palin assured her conservative admirers of during the election. The Palins made sure that there were more than enough photo-ops showcasing the baby, with Levi Johnson even then looking like an Abercrombie & Fitch moose that had wandered into frame and been whacked over the head with a two by four.
He must have sensed what was coming. In short order, Johnston began to appear on various television shows with his family, accusing the Palins of interfering with his access to his son.
The Palin family closed ranks, accusing Johnston of speaking to the media as a way to pursue "fame and fortune," which begs the question, if Levi Johnston was seeking "fame and fortune" by going on Larry King Live to announce that the Palin family was keeping his son from him, what was Sarah Palin doing when she cleaned Levi up and dressed him like a Macy's back-to-school model in order to Photoshop the empty spaces in her picture-perfect campaign promise of a family in November?
One might ask if this latest publicity grab by the Palin family is little more than an attempt by Governor Palin to regain control of her image, which has been spiraling into a deadly freefall as confirmed by the latest Hays Research poll, which has her approval rating at 59%.
On the other hand, maybe this has nothing to do with Mrs. Palin at all. Given the recent public tit-for-tat between Bristol and Levi Johnston, perhaps Bristol sees this as upping the ante, or repairing her own image by classifying their union as a "mistake" she wants to "warn other girls" away from. Or maybe she's just a bored teenager enjoying the chance to travel around on someone else's dime and enjoy her inherited celebrity for a little longer before Levi Johnson gathers his wits about him, contacts a fathers rights lawyer, and slaps Bristol and her her family with a paternal access suit.
"Abstinence is a great idea," Johnson said pointedly yesterday, "but I also think you need to enforce, you know, condoms and birth control and other things like that to have safe sex. I don't just think telling young kids, you can't have sex, it's not going to work. It's not realistic."
Suddenly I realized what an ironic stroke of genius Bristol's selection really. Bristol really is the perfect ambassador for abstinence education: She's proof that it doesn't work.
Over a billion federal dollars have been wasted on abstinence programs during Bush's eight-year Thirty Days of Night in an attempt to placate the conservative base. Study after study has proven that abstinence education is a failure because Teens Will Get Up To What They Will Get Up To. Especially when their evangelical parents (who are terrified by the very thought of naming body parts, let alone body fluids) have refused to teach and impress upon them them the absolute necessity of preventative birth control, including how to use a condom properly and how to use the pill if they're going to have sex.
The collateral damage of all this squeamishness is fact and truth. That, and the lives of those teenagers who are going to have sex anyway, because they like, you know, wanted to, but didn't have the tools to prevent the results, from pregnancy, to generic STDs, to abortions, to AIDS, and worse.
The "abstinence only" platform is entirely in keeping with the current incarnation of hypocritical conservative social morality. It's the Millennial answer to Nancy Reagan's vapid "Just Say No!" drug campaign, and has been shown to be just as unsuccessful. And what's been the solution? "Rebrand" the problem, don't fix it. Slap a fresh coat of lipstick on the pig, and tell people it's "designer" lipstick so they forget what's wearing it.
Put young girls in the pink Candie's babydoll t-shirt, the one with their slogan "I'm Sexy Enough To Keep You Waiting" and then tell them they're promoting abstinence and that sending an unambiguous indicator of resolute chastity to their boyfriends.
Instead of admitting that most teenagers are not going to wait till they're married to have sex---and need proper sex education in schools, and practical information including the correct use of available birth control---offer them perky Bristol Palin saying, "Regardless of what I did personally, I just think that abstinence is the only way you can effectively, 100% foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy." Then, when she's asked to reply to the very obvious question of how her new platform should be seen in light of her own behavior, have her say, "I'm not quite sure, I just want to go out there and promote abstinence and say, this is the safest choice. This is the choice that's going to prevent teen pregnancy and prevent a lot of heartache."
In other words, Do as I say, not as I do.