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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.
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