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Monday, September 01, 2008

A timely Palin family history regarding the competition between privacy and political possibilities

This is the only post I intend to write about the vicious rumors and, then, news regarding Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, and I am not going to open comments on this post or permit comments on the topic on other posts.

I have precisely one point to make on this topic, and I only write this because it's a point I haven't seen made elsewhere.


Kaylene Johnson's biography Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska's Political Establishment Upside Down recounts how after Sarah Palin lost in her bid to become Alaska's lieutenant governor in the 2002 GOP primary, then-U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski went on to win the Alaska gubernatorial race, so he then had the opportunity to name his own replacement for his just-vacated U.S. Senate seat. Murkowski had encouraged Palin's run for lieutenant governor, and she had supported him and campaigned for him even after her loss. Johnson reports (at page 73) that after the general election, Palin "was one of at least eight people Murkowski interviewed for the vacant seat."

But Murkowski ended up naming his daughter, Lisa Murkowski — a blatant act of nepotism that shook many of his supporters, including Palin. Murkowski went on to name Palin as the chair and ethics officer of the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, about which I blogged earlier today, since it was from that position that she ended up becoming thoroughly disillusioned with Murkowski, ultimately leading her to resign and take him on in the press over his administration's ethical violations.

Lisa Murkowski had to run for re-election to her U.S. Senate seat in her own right during the next general election. Writes Johnson (at pages 88-89; emphasis mine):

In 2004, friends and supporters urged Sarah to challenge Lisa Murkowski. [By then,] Sarah had made a name for herself as a reformer, and supporters thought she had a good chance of winning. So, Sarah approached her family to discuss the possibility. Like all of her decisions, the decision had to be unanimous.

"People don't believe me, but it's true. It had to be a family decision," she said. Todd was up for a move to Washington, D.C. and the girls were on board as well. But son Track, in his early teens, was becoming aware of the contentiousness of a political battle. He valued his privacy, and felt uncomfortable in the limelight. "Track did not want me to run, and he was adamant about it. He had to bless me," Sarah said. "If he had said at the time 'This is great,' I would have done it."

In 2006, however, Frank Murkowski himself was up for re-election as governor. Continues Johnson (at page 91): "This time, when Sarah talked with her family about running, the decision was a unanimous decision to go for it."

And of course, she won.


Public service as an elected official requires personal sacrifice, and that sacrifice is not limited to the candidates and office-holders. Their families are also at risk. In the internet age — when almost any cell phone can produce a video clip and the news cycle is barely 24 hours, when a rumor can spread across the globe faster than it could spread through a company lunchroom thirty years ago — those sacrifices are amplified.

Given that Gov. Palin was already subject to public scrutiny, Bristol's impending wedding would have gotten at least state-wide publicity, as would the subsequent birth of Gov. Palin's first grandchild. That much was already inevitable if Bristol Palin chose life instead of choosing to have an abortion.

What I want to specifically focus on, however, is Gov. Palin's decision to accept John McCain's offer to be his vice presidential running mate — knowing full well that the news about Bristol would ignite a national rumor-mill as a result.

I obviously don't know for sure what conversations Gov. Palin had with her family, and in particular with her daughter Bristol, before giving Sen. McCain her decision. But given this history from 2004 — when a veto from Track stopped her from running for a U.S. Senate seat she might very well have won, in which case she would have become Barack Obama's Senate classmate — I would wager a very, very large sum of money that Bristol Palin was given a veto right again. I would wager that she was warned, in detail, about the certainty that her privacy would be invaded in a sickening, vicious manner.

And I would wager that Bristol Palin must have said: "Go ahead, mom. Tell Senator McCain 'Yes.' I know what's coming, but my baby and I will be okay."

We know that Track decided to put his life and limb at risk for his country by enlisting in the Army and volunteering for service in Iraq. But Bristol Palin's decision may be one of the most fearless, selfless acts any seventeen year old young woman has ever made. Even thinking of her being confronted with it brings tears to my eyes.

I wish her and her husband-to-be and their baby safety and joy. And as much privacy as they can find. I intensely admire both her decision to choose life, and her decision to further sacrifice her privacy in order to support her mom for the betterment of our country. And as far as I'm concerned, that's the end of that.


UPDATE (Tue Sep 2 @ 1:15am): A regular reader and commenter emailed me to suggest that I was mistaken to close the comments to this post. Among other points, he suggested that it's ultimately detrimental to Sarah Palin and her ticket's prospects to attempt to close off debate about her rather than confronting it. In general, I agree with that, and I'm very grateful for his observations.

But this is a post mostly about Sarah Palin's daughter, not her. My judgment on this is subjective and probably arbitrary, but it's the judgment of a man with daughters age 17 and 13 himself. Closing the comments here may be analogous to snuffing out one candle in the midst of the forest fire in which Bristol Palin now finds herself engulfed. But I've made my one point, which is speculative, but I think not unreasonably so, and which expresses my admiration as best I can. Beyond that, I don't want to risk adding any more fuel to the fire, nor even further fan the flames. It's my candle, the only one that I control, so I think I'm going to keep the comments closed. I do hasten to add that this ought not to be understood as reflecting a poor opinion of most of my readers, who are among the most civil and well-informed of any blog I've ever read.

Posted by Beldar at 08:18 PM in 2008 Election, McCain, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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