Thursday, September 4, 2008

Listen up, politicians: If one kid is off limits, then all of the kids should be off limits

On Monday, when Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin confirmed that her 17-year-old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant, leaders of both political parties agreed that the situation was not for political consumption, with Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama saying outright that the children and families of the candidates are “off limits.”

Now, I totally agree that a candidate's kids should be off limits. But if one child is off limits, all of the children should be off limits -- to the press, to the public, and to the candidate as well. I write about why at The 36-Hour Day:

Makes sense. The kids didn’t choose to be in the public spotlight — their parents did. Their actions shouldn’t reflect on their parents’ qualifications or abilities. As many, many people have pointed out: Life happens. You deal with it.

That said, I think that if Bristol Palin and her pregnancy are “a private family matter” and off limits, 19-year-old Track and his decision to join the Army should be, too. Not to mention baby Trig and his special needs.

You can’t insist on excluding from debate the potential impact of a child who’s done something socially unacceptable if you’re willing to use another child’s “good” behavior or medical disability to bolster a candidate’s political image. If one kid is off limits, then all of the kids should be off limits.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that Palin was the one who announced Bristol’s pregnancy to the national media to begin with. (Is a candidate’s child still off limits if the candidate is the one who’s disclosing the sensitive information about the child?) Let’s ignore the “happy family” publicity photos and all of the politicians who parade their children and grandchildren in front of the television cameras (”Hi, Daddy!”). Where, exactly, do you draw the line when declaring family and children “off limits” in politics?

Now, I’m a working mother of five myself. My older kids aren’t out on their own yet (I’m assuming that Bristol and her new family aren’t going to be moving with the Palins to Massachusetts Avenue), though they’re not with us year-round, either. My younger kids aren’t tiny infants anymore, as Sarah Palin’s youngest is, and the special needs we deal with have to do with Autism, not Downs Syndrome. But, let me tell you, my kids affect my life daily in one way or another. Juggling work and family is hard enough without the intense public scrutiny that comes with running for office in general, let alone that of second in command of a global superpower during a time of war.

So, if we’re not to question how Bristol’s pregnancy affects Sarah Palin’s stance on abstinence-only education or discuss how Palin will be able to be there for her daughter while also presiding over the Senate as our nation’s VP, it’s only fair that people also stop holding up Track’s Army service as an example of Palin’s patriotism. And, while we’re at it, her campaign should stop using baby Trig to help her appeal to social conservatives, stop touting his very existence as testament to his mother’s morals and values.

Yes, the kids should be off limits. Everyone’s kids should be, no matter what they have (or haven’t) done. But you can’t evaluate a candidate — male or female — without considering the impact their children’s lives have on their own. To truly do that, you’d have to look at this admirable working mother and take her parenthood out of the political equation. And I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.

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