Not much was clear after Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's rambling and petulant press conference, least of all whether she was bidding farewell to politics. But this much was obvious: She's angry that so many — TV comedians, feuding political consultants, unnamed media "sources" — have taken aim at her and her family. How dare they?
How, indeed? Where was the governor when conservatives spent eight years ripping Hillary Clinton to shreds, even making foul jokes about her young daughter? Where was she when the right-wing attack machine went after Michelle Obama, blasting her as angry, unpatriotic and anti-white? Indeed, didn't Palin notice that the first woman to be named to a spot on a major party's presidential ticket — Geraldine Ferraro — wasn't exactly celebrated in a national lovefest?
Are women more likely to endure harsh personal attacks than men? You betcha. Are families immune? No way.
Surely, Alaska is close enough to the lower 48 that the governor has heard that the children of elected officials are exposed to the harsh light of public scrutiny, whether they seek publicity or not. The Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna, had to spend their college years — when young adults are known to do dumb things — having their poor judgement exposed on the covers of supermarket tabloids. Just recently, Joe Biden's adult daughter, Ashley, was caught up in a public scandal because a fellow partygoer shot a crude video in which she seems to be partaking of illicit drugs.
Nor are politicians who play on a smaller stage immune to scrutiny of their families. When Mayor Shirley Franklin's adult daughter, Kai, was accused of aiding her then-husband, a drug dealer, with his illegal activities, the story grabbed the attention of local reporters.
Had Kai's mother been, say, a schoolteacher, it's unlikely her travails would have been as newsworthy.
The same is true for Fletcher Taylor, son of former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor. The younger Taylor was in the news after a 2005 car accident, in which Taylor was driving drunk, killed his best friend, Joseph Victor Genner. Since the accident occurred in Charleston, it would have been of little interest to Georgians if Taylor hadn't been a leading public official.
Is that fair? The families of politicians would probably respond with a resounding "no!" But who told Palin politics is fair? (Like any good point guard, she's been known to throw a sharp elbow herself, so she knows how the game is played.)
When the news broke last summer that Palin's unmarried teenaged daughter was pregnant, several parents I know wondered about her decision to accept John McCain's offer. It was clear that Bristol would be thrust into the spotlight, with some criticizing her recklessness and others celebrating her decision to keep her baby. Either way, Bristol's privacy had been sacrificed to her mother's ambition.
Actually, it was worse than that. McCain and Palin chose to exploit Bristol and the baby's father, Levi Johnston. Palin announced that they would get married, and McCain greeted Johnston with a hearty handshake when Johnston arrived in Minnesota to attend the Republican National Convention — a video clip showed around the world. Johnston even campaigned for Palin at Bristol's side.
So it surely didn't come as a surprise to Palin that both traditional news media and gossip outlets were interested in the young couple's split. Nor can she blame her political enemies for the fact that Bristol and Levi have started airing their mutual rancor in broadcast interviews or that Levi now plans a tell-all book. The governor gave Levi his first sip from the addictive cup of media celebrity.
If Palin genuinely wants to protect her family from this sort of scrutiny, no one could blame her. She wouldn't be the first to decide that politics isn't worth the strains it places on family life. But surely she's not so narcissistic as to believe that only she — Joan of Alaska — has had to endure the slings and arrows of late-night comedy. If she is, that's one more reason for her to retire from the public stage.
Cynthia Tucker, an Opinion columnist, writes Wednesday and Sunday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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