Hey, Pundits, Leave Them Kids Alone!

10/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There are good reasons why pundits shouldn't talk about Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter1, or any other politician's child for that matter. It's already bringing out mean-spiritedness on the right. And for the left, it's the wrong scandal.

Check out this blog post from conservative commentator Robert Stacy McCain (no relation to John Sidney), who writes:

Since the McCain campaign has released a statement declaring that 17-year-old (daughter) Palin now faces "the responsibilities of adulthood," might I be so bold as to suggest that they arrange a press conference where (daughter) can attempt to address the horrible embarrassment she's caused her parents?

Excuse my paternal (and political) indignation but I am in no mood for pleas that the media respect anyone's privacy at this point. I don't think it an exaggeration to say that this girl (and her boyfriend) have caused a crisis of global significance ... (she) ought to face the consequences, including about 45 minutes in front of the klieg lights while reporters shout stupid questions.

It's not (the daughter's) fault her mother was picked as the GOP running mate, but she certainly should have understood how her personal behavior would reflect on her family.

So this young girl was supposed to envision how one action might affect her family - if it resulted in pregnancy, if people found out, if her mother suddenly became the Vice Presidential candidate (which experts didn't expect), and if the cumulative result of all of the above was, according to some pundit, a "crisis of global significance."

Let's see: A 17-year-old girl was supposed to foresee the future, although we forgive adult politicians for thinking we'd be "greeted as liberators" in Iraq. Now you'll just have to face the music, young lady, by submitting to interrogation by media vultures - as the klieg lights draw out beads of sweat on your forehead and the world watches your public humiliation. (Maybe a digital enhancement expert can even superimpose a scarlet "A" on her forehead.)

First, waterboarding. Now, Campbell Brown and Chris Wallace. Is there no limit to the punishment some people would inflict upon innocent and guilty alike?

This peculiar, Puritan, vindictive screed is directed against a child. At the same time, oddly enough, it completely exonerates the authority figures around her: the mother who accepted this new role knowing what might be revealed, the Presidential candidate who might have learned of this problem during vetting yet proceeded anyway, and the reporters shining a spotlight on this young person. There's a subculture within the American Right that revels in punishing the powerless for their errors while forgiving the powerful for theirs. It's not pretty to watch.

Not that the left has any more running room in this matter. It's tempting to use this incident to argue that abstinence education doesn't work, but - come on. No method is 100% effective, which is why we avoid using anecdotal evidence. There are comprehensive studies that disprove abstinence education, but one young woman's actions mean nothing.

It's also tempting to play gotcha with the fact that Sarah Palin said, back when her daughter was only 14, that if the girl were raped Gov. Palin would "choose life" and refuse to let her have an abortion. That's a private matter. What's far more important, and not addressed by anecdotes like these, is the fact that Gov. Palin would refuse to allow your daughter to get an abortion if she were raped at age 14, no matter what you wanted for her. That's what we should be discussing, not the personal issues, beliefs, or private actions of one family.

This scandal couldn't have come at a better time for Palin and the GOP. It's taken the abuse of power investigation off the front page. And it's distracting us from Palin's views, which will disturb a lot of people. She's cozy with big oil . She thinks creationism should be taught in schools.

She thinks global warming is a myth, too. In the context of modern scientific thought, that makes her roughly equivalent to 9/11 conspiracy theorists. It also makes her a threat to the well-being of the planet, and the future generations that must live upon it and with it.

There's more, but you get the picture. The debate we should be having is getting lost in the noise of this salacious gossipfest at a young girl's expense. It's tactically wrong for the left to push this scandal - but more importantly it's morally wrong.

The principle should be: Finish any political streetfight they stir up, but don't start one - especially not one with children in it. We - on the left and the right - should be better than that. When we traded insults in junior high the rule was always, "no mothers." (Usually pronounced as "hey, man, no muthas.")

Let's all take a pledge: No kids, either. That includes the media. No muthas, no kids. Whaddya say?

(other sources: Washington Monthly, atrios)

1It's pointless, since everybody knows it anyway, but I've decided not to print the girl's name.

RJ Eskow blogs at: