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September 2nd, 2008
02:29 PM ET

Strange Bedfellows

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/02/art.palin.jpg width=292 height=320]
John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

Best quote of the GOP convention so far comes from politico.com's conversation with Florida Representative Adam Putnam who tried to take on media bias in the coverage of Sarah Palin by saying, "The media doesn't understand…getting up at 3 a.m. to hunt a moose; they don't understand eating a mooseburger."

Putnam's forced populism on the subject of mooseburgers – near and dear to every Floridian's heart – is indicative of the overheated defend-at-all-costs spin cycle that is taking hold at the convention. Politics is perception and perceptions take root two months from Election Day.

After the initial Republican euphoria over the selection of Governor Palin, reporters are doing their due diligence. The question of whether Palin is a Hail Mary pass or a game-changing nomination remains in question.

Sex and culture controversies engage the public in a way that policy debates do not. And so talking heads hit the trifecta with Palin's Labor Day admission that her 17‑year-old daughter Bristol is pregnant, underage and out of wedlock.

This is causing some interesting contortions in spin rooms.

Senator Obama set the right tone in his press conference yesterday, where he decried the left-wing blogoshere for fanning the flames of this story, while he declared family attacks off-limits and pointed out that he himself is a child of a teenage mother.

Partisan defenders of Palin have been falling over themselves to defend their nominee. But some of the same social conservative voices who were tut-tutting over the teenage pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears are now finding a bracing honesty in this information, evidence of a real American family that folks can relate to. If a Democratic nominee had been in the same position, the traditional family hectoring would have been deafening – because teen pregnancy is, in fact, a societal problem.

Remember that this is the party that pilloried Murphy Brown – dragging our nation's political debates into fictional culture wars with then-vice president Dan Quayle criticizing a middle age TV character for having a fictional child out of wedlock because it set a bad example for the nation.

But in politics, where you stand is often a matter of where you sit, and social conservatives are now defending Bristol Palin's teen pregnancy. Perhaps there is some healthy societal evolution in this unexpected event – an increased compassion for the complications that can arise when individual lives depart from the Weekly-Reader script.

Whether this new dose of family reality will translate into policy decisions like funding more than sex education abstinence-only programs remains to be seen – and might make an excellent VP debate question. But maybe it will result in more compassion and less political opportunism in the face of family difficulties. Politics, after all, makes strange bedfellows.


Filed under: John P. Avlon • Raw Politics • Sarah Palin
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Elaine

    I don't understand what all the hype is about Mrs. Palin's young daughter being pregnunt. She is not running for VP her mom is?
    I velieve it is more important to show your children support and love and not distain for an act that anyone of us could put ourselves in. I'm switching party lines because I think Obama and Biden can bring the kind of change this country needs.

    September 2, 2008 at 6:42 pm |
  2. Kristi Borchers

    I am one of the faithful Hillary voters. I would like to say it is an insult to my intellegence, to Hillary Clinton, and to women everywhere to say that Hillary voters now have someone to turn to with their votes. That line of thinking assumes that we cast our vote for Hillary simply because she is a woman. I voted for her because she was on the right side of every issue, is a bulldog for results, and has had over 30 years of experience (much of it on the WORLD stage). To say that this woman, who has governed for less than two years in a state that is smaller than most congressional districts, has an ethically-questionable history, and a husband who works in the oil industry - is Hillary Clintons equal -makes me physically ill.

    This woman is not Hillary Clintons replacement any more than Fred Phelps could stand in for Rick Warren or the Pope.

    As for me and all my Hillary friends, we all stand with Obama.
    This vice-presidential choice of McCains has sealed that.

    September 2, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  3. KJ Western, MA

    Come on.......anyone who has been a parent or around a small town environment knows no one can keep a secret. Especially one that would consist of a Gov. daughter being pg. (especially for 5 mths.). Of course McCain knew about the pg. It is stupid to believe he did not.

    However, the Rep. probaly saw it as another way that Gov. Palin could relate to many America's. Frankly, it is working- that along with everyone looking attacking her makes Gov. Palin more human.

    Truth is many men are scared when a strong powerful woman enters the room. Especially one who has more experience than the Dem.;s current nomination for President. As for the women, they are just behaving in the manner many MEN have accused them of doing- just plain envy. When ever we see a woman doing well, other women tear her down, jealously is the evil green eyed monster.

    September 2, 2008 at 5:41 pm |
  4. Basil Usiabulu

    The Republican Party homily about moral values falls flat in the face of the recent scandal involving Gov. Palins teenage daughter. The Republican Party is the most de-valued Party in the universe. The whole argument about moral value is an election gimmick, Dick Cheney has a Gay Daughter who he is so proud of and Gov. Palin has a pregnant teenage daughter engaging in unprotected sex despite the fact that the mom is an apostle of Abstinence. Bob Marley, the great legend once said you can fool some of the people sometime and not all the time. The end of the road is near for the Republican Party, sooner than later the Part is going to be extinct..

    September 2, 2008 at 5:23 pm |
  5. s smith

    Nancy Pelosi has five children, too. And she has grandchildren. She's third in line for Presidency, isn't she?

    September 2, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Marion Kittelson-Villanueva

    If I were Palin, I would graciously withdraw myself from this nomination. Saving the Rebublican race and keeping it honorable. She only weakens the ticket. There are more qualified persons waiting in thw wings. Let's save the race to the White House.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  7. minnori

    Yes, we should be talking about Sarah Palin's daughter's decision to keep the baby.

    It's not as if we are at war, are going through tough economic times or that gas prices are sky high.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  8. Sabrina, houston texas

    I hope this nation can see that McCain has poor jugdement and someone still wants to vote for this man.. McCain is always changing his story given our nation false promises. We DO NOT need another four years of the Bush Administration, and that's what we will get with McCain. How can he call Obama an elitist and he is one. He continues to make stupid judgements just like picking a VP that no one knows but the Republicans make her sound so good which is funny to me. McCain should of did his research before just picking Sarah and all these things about her keep coming up. It's obvious that McCain picked Sarah because she was a beauty queen like Cindy. He would of had better luck picking his wife as his VP then Sarah.....

    September 2, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  9. Sylvio Leclerc

    The Democrats are grasping at straws. Sarah Palin is more quailified than Obama is, at running the country and they are trying to use her personal life as a disqualifier, to her ability. If Obama's personal life came into the picture, it would be a lot worst than Palin's is. This is the worst form of campaigning, but this is all the Democrats have, so they are trying to, use it for their advantage.. Sarah is an American, with American problems. Get off the personal problems, she'll handle them, get on to something serious, like the issues.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:26 pm |
  10. Rick from Alaska

    This is the bottom line; The republican slogan is "Country First". Sarah Palin has done great things for Alaska and is a representation of a middle class mother with typical values. The choice of Mrs. Palin by the McCain camp simply reflects a stay in line stance with country first. We need to change the typical politician that is in Washington today and vote for the team that is more "nation first".

    September 2, 2008 at 4:25 pm |
  11. Mindy Chatsworth, Ca.

    I call this absurd pick by McCain the biggest hail mary pass of all time and the most cynical. He did this in the pathetic hope that he could pick off some of Hillary Clinton's disgruntle women supporters. The fact that Palin has absolutely nothing in common with Hillary Clinton or her policies and political beliefs, seems to have been conveniently overlooked.

    This teenage pregnancy is the least of Palin's problems. Of much greater concern is her slim resume as mayor of a town that would be a blip on the radar in most states and barely two years as governor of a state so sparsely populated that she could probably run it part time. Even worse is her campaigning for pork barrel earmarks for her state. So much for the reform and maverick aspect of her appeal. Additionally, she is currently under investigation for the firing of an officer who was the ex-husband of one of her relatives.

    Obviously, McCain and company did not properly vett this woman before she was tapped to be his running mate. The more that comes out about this woman, the more shocked I am that they were foolish enough to pick her in the first place. I am not judging her or her daughter. That is their private business. But I do feel free to judge all conservatives for their unspeakable hypocrisy on this issue.

    She is simply not qualified to be the vice presidential candidate and if the Republicans think they can fool the American voters again, well as only Bill Clinton can say it – the third time is NOT the charm.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:07 pm |
  12. Miriam Lawson

    Governor Palin has underage children, one of which is an infant with special needs, which has nothing to do with politics or women's rights. Being the VP of the United States is not just "taking a job outside the home". Children today need the availability of their parents more than ever before. There are sick people that are very willing to be available to children, especially if their parents are not.

    I question her decisions, as a mother, taking on such a consuming job with children that obviously need her. Teenage girls have been getting pregnant since the beginning of time. But putting this girl in the spotlight while she's going through this is not fair. Even though there were only 2 daughters in our family, my Mom worked in the home until we were in high school, then went to nursing school. I don't understand her leaving a special needs infant and her other children to even consider THIS job.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Bob from Dallas, Texas

    Why are we talking about Sarah Palin and her family rather than McCain & Obama and the issues that we are faced with today?

    I don't know about you all but I am voting for the number one on the ticket and not number two. McCain is not too old and Obama is not too young so lets get down to the meat & potatos of this election. The economy, protecting America, healthcare, imigration, social security and all the other issues the media seems to have forgotten about.

    September 2, 2008 at 4:02 pm |
  14. Jeff in Los Angeles

    Just to add, my sister has a son with Downs Syndrome. He is now 13. Its a huge effort to raise him, and his level of Down's is on the lower level. They don't even know what this child's level is yet. My nephew is a amazing, but honestly, if my sister didn't give him the attention he needed during his growing years, he would not be at the great place he is today. A women who is Vice President, and possibly could be the President doesn't have the proper time needed to care for a Down's child. I have seen it first hand.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:53 pm |
  15. da

    As a Human Resources professional I fight every day for the rights of employees to work in any job regardless of (among other protected issues) gender, pregnancy or family disability. I'm blown away to read the comments here which are nothing more than blatant discrimination. Forget about fighting for a woman's right to end a pregnancy. Based on these comments, I'd say we haven't even won the right to compete in the workplace.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:51 pm |
  16. Scott Kemper

    Mrs. Palin should keep her own house clean before she tells us how to manage and run ours. The shear fact that the Evangelicals are backing this outrageous show of irresponsible behavior and lack of teaching and parenting should speak volumes to the American people.
    If the shoe were on the other foot, the Obama camp would be ostricized by the Evangelicals for Immoral Behavior.
    I think her premartial sexual encounter is a cry for attention she is apparently not getting at home. Although accidents can happen, this is an immoral train wreck skidding out of control.
    For the Evangelicals to preach abstanence and no premarital sex and now stand behind this situation is complete validation of their hypocritic behaviors showered with opportunity and convenience.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:50 pm |
  17. loretta lillard

    The Republican party has been bedfellows with the conservative Christian community often referred to as "Evangelicals" for political gain for a number of years whose values include anti abortion sentiments and the implication at a good mom is a stay at home soccer mom.

    The selection of Sarah Palin sends a strong contradictory message from the conservative Christian community about what it means to be a good, caring, nurturing mother and parent.

    As a mother of a daughter who is also a university Professor and committed missionary and community worker, when I say family comes first, I mean that what ever my husband and I are involved in, family needs must be considered first.

    The office of Vice President of the US is a 24-7 job. During a crisis in our country at 3:00 a.m., which comes first for Sarah Palin? Perhaps she should reconsider her position.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  18. Jeff in Los Angeles

    Hey Cindy in GA....Obama was let off the hook scott free and still is? Ummm, have you watched any news over the last year...Reverend Wright, Obama's wife is un-American. He has been far from left off the hook. What he has done is confront these issues head on, and made decisions on them that have been responsible. If something else comes out about him, they won't let him off the hook. I know you are a strong Republican and you want to support your side, but don't play dumb and naive.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:49 pm |
  19. suki

    Paul from Ohio – you have said everything that can be said about McCain and the Palin folly – watching the GOP spin this would be comical if the Presidency wasn't at stake!

    September 2, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  20. Melissa, Los Angeles

    I think it's hypocritical for the social conservatives to defend Bristol's teen pregnancy when they had made such a huge issue with Murphy Brown's character having a child out of wedlock. For one Bristol is a minor who probably hasn't graduated high school yet and has no job that would generate enough income to support a child (and probably never will unless she goes to college) vs. Murphy Brown's character of a mature adult with a financially stable career that would be able to care for a child although I'm not too crazy about a woman becoming a single mother on purpose. There are so many ramifications when children are brought into this world. Too bad there isn't a license to become parents.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  21. stef

    Yep, Hunter is a lobbyist for his dad's biggest contributor; which also paid $1.2 million for dad's house. Does Joe Biden get a free pass on Amtak, which would be worth $200 a day?

    September 2, 2008 at 3:34 pm |
  22. Paul from Ohio

    Can we (the media, the political operatives on both sides and bloggers) please move beyond the RED HERRING discussion around the executive experience of Gov Palin as compared to Sen Obama’s legislative record. I think Obama erred by comparing it to his executive management of his campaign.

    Let’s face it; both experiences are light, so to defend either with the degree of ridiculous conviction that spin-masters are doing serves only to make it okay to lower the bar in American politics...if that were indeed the most important criterion for choosing a President. But the reason this whole experience discussion is a red herring is that it simply MISSES THE POINT.

    Leadership should reflect THOUGHTFUL JUDGMENT AROUND COMPLEX ISSUES. On that point, Senators Obama and Biden, as well as Senator McCain have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to that end. Sen Palin simply cannot claim that to be true about her own life, no matter how much the Republican spin-masters fight to defend her.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  23. Oneda Youmans

    I have always told my grandchildren to stay away from drugs and you can do accomplish all your dreams you wish in this world and the USA. Now, what do I tell them when we have someone, Obama, who used drugs as a teen and is now running for President of the United States of American? I have a grandson who has aways been on the honor roll since day one, he's in the 5 th. grade and reads on a 8th. grade 9th. month level and is in the gifted program. Do I tell him to drop all his dreams because it will not matter because now we have a man running for President that used drugs and is now running for President of our precious country, the USA? You tell me. I am lost for words. I think we have all lost our minds and sending the wrong message to the youth of today and tomorrow.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  24. Jes S.C.

    Don"t this remind you of McCain returning from Vietnam. A Hero, a womanizer and player.

    Cindy went off to Georgia and upon her return McCain had found another soulmate.
    As a POW and his many surges he had conquered being another type maverick winning every unexplain ficticous McCain wars. Gov Palin was vetted on the first date a play out of the old Johnny Boys' playbook, something Cindy maybe familiar with.
    As an American we should not be fool on losing wars than winning political office but on good and sound judgement and changing the status quo...

    September 2, 2008 at 3:24 pm |
  25. Christy

    8 years ago Senator McCain voted for Bush and again 4 years after that (bad decision on his part for our country). Now, he is asking the Republicans to trust his personal judgment with his VP selection. Apparently, he doesn't even personally know her that well. This really scares me.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:23 pm |
  26. Mike

    Palin is definitely a game changer. If McCain wins the election and something happens to him in office, then the game will definitely be changed. It will be game over for this country. We'll have a completely unqualified President that was selected into office, not elected. Yes, Obama's resume is thin and I don't think anyone can dispute that. However, he was ELECTED by millions of people across this country to be the democratic nominee. Palin was selected by John McCain aka Mr. Maverick. She's the only person on either ticket who didn't have the stones to put her hat in the ring from the start.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:16 pm |
  27. gail riley

    After preaching about how unexperienced Sen B.O is, it is a joy to me to see Sen. J.M have his pet project blow up in his face. After trying to tie B.O to cooruption and shame, it is a joy to see things turn on him. What goes around comes around. He tried to steal a moment is histroy from america and it back fired in a huge way. He put carriage before the horse and landed on his A**. Palin is a disgrace not just as a gov. but expecially as a mother. Where was she when her 17 year old daughter was engageing in unprotected sex? She could not just have gotton pregnant, which she did, she could have lost her life. Is this someone we want to call on in the middle of the night. Between the four month old and the rest of that bunch? I don't think so. America needs to get real and stand up for something. This is not ok. In no way, shape or form. The only reason JM picked SP was to steal away BO thunder. What God has predestined can not be touched not by the likes of JM or anyone in the Rep. Party. They should step aside and let nature takes it course. The time is now for BO and the sun is about to set on JM and the Rep Party old system of corruption and shame. Step aside.JM, SP. Expecially Mrs. Palin. You need to spend some more time with your girls. I see you have 2 others younger than Bristol. Try spending time with them and educating them so them don't fall into the same path. It is not ok for childred to be having childred. I think it is wrong and some one needs to stand up for childred and teach them the right way. Sex is for marriage and is hournable by God. But note, we are all sexual beigns and will get a thingle, Proper education and family support is what is needed, not to glamourise teen age pregnancy, and getting married at seventeen does not make it ok. Step down, step down now.

    September 2, 2008 at 3:08 pm |
  28. Shawn

    She is a game changer! I am more concerned about bidens kid being a lobbyist.

    September 2, 2008 at 2:56 pm |
  29. Lori Coupez

    I am not worried about the teen pregnancy but the Downs Syndrome baby she will have to virtually neglect from now on. Family values? Sorry, but there are some things only a mother can provide a special needs child and depriving a special needs newborn is sad. I am all for equality and a huge Hillary supporter, but there are some things only a mother can provide a newborn.

    September 2, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  30. KJ Western, MA

    What family difficulties????

    Sounds like a normal family in today's America. Palin is more in touch with everyday American's than any other person running.

    If anything this makes me want to support the McCain/Palin ticket even more.

    Gov. Palin and family- congrats on the new addition to the family and God Bless!!!

    September 2, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  31. Cindy

    After the initial Republican euphoria over the selection of Governor Palin, reporters are doing their due diligence.

    UMM...like they did with Obama? Yeah right! He was let off scott free and still is! Palin's family problems have nothing to do with anyone else. Yet the media wants to sensationalize that yet look over everything in Obama's past that really tells what type of a person he is and who he hangs with. Because you know birds of a feather flock together.

    And McCain and Palin are no stranger of a pair than Obama and Biden seeing as though Obama is dead set against lobbyist yet Biden's son Hunter is one! But yeah the liberal media will overlook that.

    Cindy..Ga.

    September 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  32. Paul from Ohio

    Several Democratic strategists have characterized this move by McCain as reckless, frightening, purely political, etc. On the flip-side, Republican apologists favorably compare Gov Palin’s executive experience to the legislative resume of Sen Obama.
    This silly game of tit-for-tat misses the point entirely. Let’s be clear: Obama supporters are NOT voting for him because of the depth of his experience; rather it’s for the depth of his IDEAS around the incredible COMPLEXITY OF CHALLENGES that our nation faces both domestically and abroad. Republican apologists may wish to dismiss these ideas as mere campaign rhetoric; however, Obama has shown himself to be thoughtful, intelligent, credible and passionate around an inspiring agenda for change. The key words here are “intelligence around complexity”. Whoever becomes President or Vice-President will certainly get a crash course on geopolitics, but it should ideally be an advanced-level course, not a primer. Did I mention complexity?

    Moreover, in terms of executive experience, George W. Bush’s executive resume in 2000 (Governor of Texas for over 5 years, not to mention executive positions in oil and baseball) clearly would have blown away all 4 candidates (combined) this year. However, America has learned the hard way that executive experience does not trump solid, measured judgment. In fact, the reverse is true – or at least should be true.

    September 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  33. Kenny

    Palin failed as parent. the message from the press and the Republicans is that is now okay to get pregnant as long as you keep the baby. She should be ashame of herself for accepting the nomination and McCain shows show how inept his competence will be as a commander in chief. no i see clearly why people link McCain to Bush. we canot continue to allow so called educated illetrates to govern this contry.

    September 2, 2008 at 2:42 pm |
  34. Paul from Ohio

    So continuing the metaphor of strange bedfellows...

    What does it say about the judgment of the Republican nominee when he jumps into bed after a mere 1 or 2 dates?
    One of the key themes that emerged during the DNC in Denver was that Sen McCain’s judgment is highly suspect. The very next day, John McCain made the most critical decision of his campaign thus far – and he did so presumably on behalf of the American people he seeks to serve. I cannot help but think that his selection of Gov Palin as his VP running mate is further evidence of incredibly flawed judgment.
    With all due respect, Gov Palin, while undoubtedly quite intelligent and quite articulate (even impressive) in her first speech, was mayor of a town of fewer than 9000 (that’s less than half of the crowd that witnessed her introduction in Dayton). And not to slight the residents of our largest state by size (and certainly one of the most beautiful), I also noticed that with a population of fewer than 700K, there are fewer people in the entire state of Alaska than in the 3 counties in semi-rural southwest Ohio that make up the Dayton MSA (according to Wikipedia). Toto, we’re not in Wasilla anymore!

    September 2, 2008 at 2:40 pm |