On the third night of the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin finally spoke up. The next morning I woke up to a front-page article in The Boston Globe, announcing that Sarah Palin has reignited the mommy wars.
No kidding. Birth plans, breastfeeding, working moms, teenagers and sex: it’s like the national conversation has become one big mommy kaffeklatsch. Or one big mommy driveby, as women across the country wonder how Palin does it–when they’re not condemning her for doing it.
“How,” asks one of my friends, a mother of three who is out of the house by 6:45 every morning to get to her full-time job, “is a woman with five kids, including a baby with Down syndrome and a pregnant teenager, going to find time to be vice president?”
“Why,” asks another, “did she get on that plane and fly home to Alaska once her water broke in Texas? Didn’t she know she was putting her baby in danger?”
Those are the gentle ones. Palin has been attacked on everything from her hair clips and how awkwardly she holds her baby, to who actually gave birth to her fifth child and whether she’s exploiting her teenage daughter’s pregnancy for political gain.
This time around, though, everything is all mixed up. A right-wing Christian fundamentalist from Alaska is being hailed as the rightful heir to a liberal Senator from New York. We’ve got conservative Republicans defending working moms, and feminist commentators worrying that Palin is setting standards that are too high for other women.
And then Palin took the stage.
In a speech clearly written by an experienced speechwriter, she began, predictably, by introducing her family. A mom move? Sure, but these days, what politician doesn’t talk family? Biden did it; Obama did it; McCain did it the night after Palin did it. Whether we like it or not, spouses and kids have become a political staple, regardless of gender.
Really, though, what Palin’s speech revealed was not the mom, but the politician.
Lighting into Barack Obama with a smug sarcasm that made my skin crawl, aggressively separating out her version of the good Americans from the bad, repeating John McCain’s name so many times you wondered if she thought we were stupid, and claiming victory in a war that I can’t imagine how anyone will win (remind you of any other Iraq victory statements?), Palin showed herself as what she is: a bedrock-conservative culture warrior hellbent on bringing back a low-tax, small-town, gun-owning, bootstraps-pulling Christian America that never really was, not even in Alaska.
So what does this have to do with mothers? Everything.
I feel deeply uncomfortable with–and have frequently been horrified by–the criticism of Sarah Palin as a mother. I may not agree with Palin’s choices about how to raise her kids, but they’re her kids. So long as they’re not abused or neglected, her kids are her business, and it’s her right to raise them as she chooses (just as it will be their right to rebel against her, if they choose).
But when it comes to my kids, it’s a different story. As a mother, Palin shapes the lives of her children, but as a politician, she could shape the lives of all our children, and, so far, I’m not liking the shape I see.
I want my daughters to be able to read whatever they want, marry whomever they want, and make their own choices if they face unplanned pregnancies. I want them to benefit from stem cell research, and live on a planet that is recovering from global warming, not still denying it. I don’t want them to fight wars on behalf of God, and I’m fine with them paying taxes–after all, for those of us who don’t have oil company payments, taxes are pretty essential. And, you know, I’d prefer that my children live in a country where people accept and appreciate regional, cultural, and religious differences, rather than exploiting them for political gain.
None of us really knows what happens in other people’s families. Maybe Bristol Palin cares more about her mother being elected vice president than her own privacy. Perhaps Sarah and Todd Palin have negotiated an effective arrangement for sharing childcare. Or maybe not. We don’t know.
But we do know what happens in our country, and that’s what really matters right now. Moms should be talking about Palin, with each other, and with everyone else. But for the sake of our children, let’s focus on policies, not parenting.