ran in The Boston Globe. It examines the relevance of
Palin’s personal life in this presidential election, and it’s
intersections with the movement for LGBT equality.
WITH ONE important exception, what we have learned about vice
presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family does not reflect
badly on any of them. What the Palin family story does do is
underscore the flaws in the political philosophy that was critical
to her being selected by John McCain.
The exception, of course, is the allegation that she tried to get
the Alaska public safety commissioner to fire her former
brother-in-law and fired the commissioner when he would not give in
to her wishes. Public officials cannot use their official positions
on behalf of family members in a domestic dispute.
The divorce itself and the pregnancy of Palin’s daughter are the
sorts of things that occur in many American families, and those
involved are entitled to be treated with compassion. But that is
precisely the point that makes this a relevant political issue.
Palin was selected by McCain in substantial part because of her
high standing as a leading advocate of the socially conservative
wing of the Republican Party. McCain was reportedly leaning
strongly toward naming Joe Lieberman to be his running mate, but
was deterred by the vehement opposition of social conservatives.
And when Palin was selected, James Dobson, one of the leading
advocates for imposing personal moral choices on the rest of us,
announced that this was the one thing that switched him from
skepticism about McCain to enthusiastic support.
According to that right-wing social viewpoint, divorce, teen
pregnancy, and other lapses in family values are the fault of
liberals. According to this political movement, respecting the
right of gay and lesbian people to formalize their relationships;
refusing to censor the Internet, books, television or movies;
supporting age appropriate sex education; and refusing to allow
religion to be inculcated by official government means, are the
causes of social dysfunction in America. And every indication we
have is that Palin believes this viewpoint.
That is why the questions of divorce and teen pregnancy are
relevant in discussions of the McCain/Palin ticket. The individuals
involved in these cases deserve to be treated with compassion, but
so do millions of other Americans who find themselves in similar
situations. But, sadly, they are often met with criticism and
hostile public policy formulated by those who now claim Palin as
their political champion. Too often, people on the right seek to
impose strict standards on others, and blame them for falling
short, while making exceptions for those close to them. Respect and
compassion should extend to all who find themselves in similar
The problems that have affected Palin’s family are part of the
experience of millions of people who face the stresses and strains,
moral dilemmas, and difficult choices of contemporary life. The
right wing, of which Palin is one of the acclaimed leaders, rejects
this view, and argues that it is the failure of many of us to adopt
their particular moral view that is the cause of these
The glaring inconsistency between the social philosophy that blames
liberalism for divorce and teen pregnancy and the facts of Palin’s
family life further underlines the serious shortcomings of that
philosophy. This does not mean that family members are “fair game,”
a view that some have inaccurately attributed to me. People are not
“game,” fair or unfair. They are human beings who often face
difficult personal decisions.
The relevant political point about the existence of these incidents
in Palin’s family is not that they reflect badly on her or her
relatives, but that they further reveal the central flaw of the
harshly judgmental and intolerant philosophy she exemplifies: She
advocates restricting the personal freedom and right to fair
treatment of many Americans in a fruitless effort to eradicate the
kind of behavior that, as her own experience shows, does not lend
itself to this sort of approach.