Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is Bristol Palin's pregnancy relevant?

In response to my last post, Frida writes, "Thanks for your thoughts on this Anne - I've been reading posts about Sarah Palin from many US women bloggers and was becoming uncomfortable with the extent to which her 17 year old daughter was being pulled into the debate about Palin's suitability for office. It seems to me that Palin's positions on abortion and sex education are relevant, her daughter's pregnancy (and the identify of the alleged father-to-be) is absolutely not. Am I missing something? What do you think?"

In normal circumstances, no, it would not be relevant. But in the extremely weird world of US presidential elections, there is no such thing as irrelevance. The right-wing commentators have repeatedly pilloried Obama for his choice of salad - "elitist" arugula (rocket) instead of "regular" iceberg lettuce.

Moreover, the conservative Christian right has repeatedly used teen sex and pregnancy - particularly black teenage pregnancy - as a symbol of what's wrong with America, and with their opponents' "liberal" values. (Remember the rumour that helped Bush beat McCain for selection last time - that McCain's adopted child of Indian descent was in fact his illegimate child by an African-American woman?) They have also insisted that abstinence is the only acceptable way for teens to prevent pregnancy (or sexually transmitted diseases). So now their sudden conviction that teen pregnancy is simply a private family matter rings a little hollow, and is a political gambit in itself. In this context, Bristol's pregnancy cannot be ignored.

As The Economist points out, the abortion issue "still distorts American politics". The Bush administration "apppointed so many incompetents" because they were firmly anti-choice - even where the positions at stake had nothing to do with abortion. McCain is said to have selected Palin over Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge "because their pro-choice views are anathema to the Christian right". No matter how often Palin claims that Bristol made her own choice, her pregnancy, like the birth of Trig Palin, has inevitably become a symbol of Sarah Palin's own position.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your response Anne - you explain well how the fact of a 17 year old girl's pregnancy has been made relevant through the approach the conservative right has taken to not only the issues (sex ed, teen pregnancy, abortion) but also the process of politics.

    I did enjoy this post by a successful young adult author. Most of the readers of her blog are teen girls and she was writing for her audience. What I appreciated was that she addressed Bristol Palin as a human being in this mess and used that empathetic approach to bring a strong message about birth control, sex ed and freedom of choice to her teenage readers.