Monday, September 01, 2008

Pistol-Whipping Bristol

(Photo Credit: The Scarlet Letter [1926], with Lillian Gish, via imdb.)

You have no idea how little business we have posting this evening. Classes start at Queer the Turtle U. tomorrow. Moose has an important meeting at 9 a.m. The syllabus still isn't done. The pencils are not sharpened and all lined up in the new cigar box. The bologna sandwiches have not been made. And we're reluctant to bump down the post about Basic Rights Montgomery, because we're still hoping a lot of you will step up to the plate and help save transgender protections here in our ridiculously large backyard. (Remember: Moose's fundraising deadline is Friday. Scroll down and read that post, 'kay? And let us know if you decide to contribute. Thanks!)

Anyway, so we shouldn't be posting, but we are, because in between working on their ten million unfinished tasks the moms couldn't help but tune in to what strikes them as the insane and in many places cruel reaction to the news that presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter Bristol is pregnant. We realize that the left is entitled to gloat when any of the self-appointed vice cops of the right is caught in some compromising sexual shenanigan, but are we comfortable exploiting the mistake (if that is what it was) of a 17-year-old kid whom none of us had heard of three days ago? Does that really feel fair? Does that make us feel good about our grown-up, sexually progressive selves? As we glanced around the blogosphere today and saw all the gleeful jokes made at the Palin family's expense, we had one thought, a thought no doubt inspired by the back-to-school moment in which we find ourselves:

What if Bristol Palin were your student?

What if she stumbled into your office late on a Tuesday afternoon, the day before a paper was due, and asked you for an extension? You might slip into stern, schoolteacher mode for a minute and ask her why, at this late date, you should afford her such munificence. You begin your speech about being fair to all the other students in the class -- and Bristol bursts into tears, right there, across the desk from you, when you are eager to pack up and go because you have to stop at the grocery store on the way home. Chicken or fish? you were thinking to yourself when the earnest brunette came to your door, and now, suddenly, you must contend with a weeping young woman who cannot finish her paper. What do you do?

Roxie's World has a hunch you would not mock her. You wouldn't make jokes about her dubious morals and the embarrassment she caused her family. You wouldn't berate her either or lecture her about the decision she had made or the pressure she was feeling. No, we think we know what you would do. You would do what good teachers from time immemorial have done. You would forget about the chicken and the fish, push aside the papers you had been trying to organize, hand Bristol a Kleenex -- and you would listen, kindly, patiently, and without judgment. You would show her empathy, treat her with compassion, and work with her to formulate a strategy for finishing her assignment. She would leave your office 30 minutes later with dry eyes, and you would order a pizza for dinner. Because, face to face with her, you would care about Bristol Palin.

Can you imagine that?

(For more on the Bristol brouhaha, see, as always, Melissa McEwan, in The Guardian, and Zuzu over at Shakesville. There's been a lot of other stuff on this today, but we honestly don't have time to do the linking. Oh, and this post isn't aimed at any particular person or piece we ran across. It is really aimed at a sort of general chortling on the left that made us profoundly uncomfortable. We think such carrying on is politically risky because of the likelihood that it will offend and alienate pretty much anyone who has ever parented, taught, known, or been a 17-year-old kid. Quite a few votes in that cohort, eh? And, for the record, Obama said exactly the right thing.)


  1. historiann11:55 PM EDT

    Thanks, Roxie, for your compassionate post on this. The cruelty and misogyny and panty-sniffing on the left this weekend really beggars the imagination.

    Can I emigrate to join you in Switzerland? Because I think this weekend illustrates that misogyny in the Dem party was not a bug of the primary season, it's a feature. (And aside from it being inherently ugly and morally wrong, it's also a losing strategy!)

  2. Borders are open, Historiann, and you are welcome to join us. Just bring your lederhosen and, you know, a well-worn copy of The Dialectic of Sex. ;-)

  3. Thank you, Roxie -- for saying what needs to be said. I heard this news this morning and thought, "I'm sorry, are we talking about this woman's *daughter*?" By the time we got to the reaction of "religious leaders" (who are glad she's not having an abortion), I was beginning to feel downright ill.

    I fully understand the schadenfreude the left feels when the right displays its hypocrisy. What's disturbing, is that we seem to believe that this is one of those cases.

  4. I agree with everything you say about Bristol Palin, but I think her mother needs to be completely and utterly excoriated for accepting John McCain's offer and, by doing so, allowing her daughter to become a human pinata for the media.

  5. historiann2:31 PM EDT

    Eitan--you are wrong. Please consider: would you ever have the same expectation of a male candidate? Should Palin also resign her position as governor, because this surely would have been at least a statewide or regional story, if not a huge national story? I guess no mothers should ever run for office, ever, because their children might do something embarassing and regrettable. Do all women in politics have to quit their jobs and stop running for office if one of their children does something of note? (Funny, no one suggested that Bill Ritter resign here in Colorado when his son August Ritter had a keg party at the governor's mansion and posted stupid pictures on the web, and no one ever suggested that Bob Shaffer drop out of the Senate race here when his son's objectionable and racist ideas were posted on his MySpace page.)

    Maybe it's the media--and misogynist, prurient Democrats who have pushed this story--who need to change their ways.

    All I heard on so-called "progressive" radio this morning was the same old misogyny dressed up as concern trolling for Bristol Palin. "What kind of a mother would put her daughter in that position? Think about the children? The mother must be inhumanly ambitious to have done this, so we can't trust her!!!" Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of reasons not to vote for McCain/Palin, but Palin's alleged skills or responsibility as a mother aren't even on the table.

  6. I don't think that we should criticize Sarah Palin's mothering skills. That's a conversation I can't bring myself to engage in. I do think, however, that we can criticize the fact that she has, as I stated before, put her innocent daughter into the media grinder and brought shame and embarrassment upon her daughter's private life -- her sex life, to boot. You can't tell the media to stop being soulless, muckraking vultures; that's what they do best.

    I don't think it was irresponsible for her to allow her daughter to get pregnant and keep the baby, and I don't think it's irresponsible for her to remain Gov. of Alaska, where she and her family certainly have a lot of media coverage as well. I do, however, think it was irresponsible for her to accept, given that she knew everything that we now know, and expect that her daughter would not be fed to the wolves and absolutely humiliated in front of 300 million Americans. And if you think low-info voters aren't getting the message, take a look at the upcoming issue of Us Weekly. You'll barf.

    What's in question here is not her management of her family life -- it's the fact that she put her family's reputation on the line, and within 72 hours, they have become the laughingstock of the nation. Whether or not it's RIGHT for the media to laugh, or for us to laugh is another question. She just should have known better. And McCain should have known better too.

  7. Just as an addendum, Bonnie Fuller comes to the same conclusion as I do, in this article on HuffPo.

  8. Mmm. . .as someone who was raised in the Church of Christ that is similar to the fundamentalist church of which the Palins are members (I am NOT a member now, by the way), I'd wager my next year's salary that Bristol Palin had been down on the front pew begging God's and her fellow church members' forgiveness long before McCain turned to Palin. I'd also wager that the congregation enthusiastically forgave her (from what I've read, that's probably how everyone in the little Alaskan town knew). And that leads me to this conclusion: she doesn't feel humiliated and is pretty much impervious to what the media might be saying. She doesn't care what we think or say because in her mind and heart she has set things right with her God, and that's all that matters (or so I surmise from what I've read). Why should she be embarrassed? Why should her family be embarrassed? I don't follow that. She made a mistake, committed, in their view, a "sin," and she's taking responsibility for it. So I don't get why that would hurt hers or her family's reputation.

    Now we may not understand this because most of us probably would make a different decision and we don't tout abstinence. And we don't share her faith, but my guess is that that faith has made her very strong in the face of all of this.

    Just an observation from my fundamentalist upbringing. What I do know is that we secularists woefully underestimate the inner strength that the faith of these true believers gives them.

  9. Goose makes an excellent and important point here. I think the left totally misreads much of this thing because they totally misread fundamentalism. I also think 9 out 10 people watching the media spectacle hate the media and not the family or the McCain campaign for subjecting the kid to it.

  10. historiann8:25 PM EDT

    Eitan says, "I don't think that we should criticize Sarah Palin's mothering skills. That's a conversation I can't bring myself to engage in."

    And then in the immediate next sentences, Eitan says, "I do think, however, that we can criticize the fact that she has, as I stated before, put her innocent daughter into the media grinder and brought shame and embarrassment upon her daughter's private life -- her sex life, to boot."

    Uhm, yeah--Innocent. Media Grinder. Shame. Embarassment. But you're not criticizing her mothering at all!

    Eitan says, "I don't think it was irresponsible for her to allow her daughter to get pregnant and keep the baby..."

    "To allow her daughter to get pregnant and keep the baby..." Do you really think Sarah Palin had any role in getting her daughter pregnant? Do you actually know any teenaged girls? I bet their mothers *wish* they could grant permission for everything their daughters do!

    Eitan says, "What's in question here is not her management of her family life -- it's the fact that she put her family's reputation on the line, and within 72 hours, they have become the laughingstock of the nation. Whether or not it's RIGHT for the media to laugh, or for us to laugh is another question. She just should have known better. And McCain should have known better too."

    Once again with the not-bringing-yourself to question Palin's mothering skills or care for her family! "Put her family's reputation on the line." "Laughingstock of the nation." Wow--good for you for withholding judgment about a family you don't even know! Excellent work.

    Once again, I maintain that Obama's supporters are frequently his worst enemies. There is no principled way to make either Sarah or Bristol Palin's sexual or reproductive histories political issues. Period.

  11. I don't think that their reproductive histories should be political issues, but any sensible politician would know that this WOULD blow up and bring unnecessary attention onto their family.

    For that reason, this clearly isn't an Obama-McCain issue, so it's no use rehashing the petty "Obama supporter" language from the spring bloodbath. This is squarely a Palin-Media issue, and it would be if I were a McCain supporter or a Bob Barr supporter or a Cynthia McKinney supporter.

    There is also a difference between private mothering and public mothering. I don't give a crap what Sarah Palin feeds her kids for breakfast, or what books she reads them, or where she sends them to school. What I do care about is the public decisions she makes (joining the GOP ticket) and the impact that it has on her family. I think it's a legitimate concern; I honestly think that she doesn't care that her daughter is being shamelessly exploited by Us Weekly, the National Enquirer, and the like, and I'm entitled to think that that bodes particularly well for her political or management skills.

    It's an obvious truth, but it needs to be said that we can tell a lot about a candidate's governing style from their campaign behaviors. Hillary would no doubt have brought a tough-as-nails approach to the White House. Obama's White House will likely be nuanced and professorial. John McCain is a high-stakes, emotional gambler, and his White House would likely shoot first and ask questions later. (Sound familiar?) So Sarah Palin's first impressions on me are thus: she throws her daughter under the bus and reveals herself to be a total liar and hypocrite on everything from contraception to library book banning to staff loyalty tests to pork barrel spending. She's corrupt and vindictive in so many ways, and it appears as though the news about her petty governorship is not going to let up anytime soon.

    I don't think Bristol Palin is fair game. I do, however, think that Sarah Palin's approach to her daughter's pregnancy is fair game -- if this woman could potentially be the leader of the free world in mere months, I think we all deserve to know about the way she treats other people, especially her family. At the end of the day, she answers to no one but her husband and her five children, and if she's perfectly content to allow them to become national scandals, what are we supposed to expect of a Palin administration?

  12. Or, rather, that does NOT bode particularly well for her political or management skills. Oops.

  13. Hi. I'm here via Historiann and I enjoyed his post. I do just want to ask eitan, who is it that threw Bristol beneath the bus? Palin you say? I hardly think so. I just heard a similar argument made by a female member of the press who said it was inevitable that Bristol Palin's pregnancy would become a political football, blamed her mother for that rather than her collegues in the press and then proceeded to give herself permission to toss the football - because that's the way it works. But Bristol Palin's pregnancy hasn't made the international news because her mother decided to be John McCain's running mate. It became an issue because "we" have made it so. And we still can't stop. There will likely be quite a few more "Bristol Palin's" before we all grow up.

  14. If you throw a sheep into a pack of wolves, it's not the wolves' faults that they eat the sheep whole. Anyone who thinks that their family life will not be scoured top to bottom by a vicious media has no business being in politics.

    That's why I agree with Martha in asserting that Sarah Palin just does not care. However, unlike Martha, I don't think this can be rationalized as a bizarre religious thing; I truly think that it is a personal deficiency on Sarah Palin's part that she allowed this shitstorm to happen on a moment's notice, without telling her family -- they all got on the plane for Dayton and had no idea what they were going to, since she wanted to make it a SURPRISE.

    What's the use in defending her?

  15. Oh, dear, I really shouldn't wade into this because my typist has to get to bed, but I do want to welcome Hysperia to Roxie's World. Any friend of Historiann's is a friend of ours, so it's great to see you here.

    Eitan is a friend of ours, too, but I must say you are being a little over the top on the subject of Sarah Palin. If there's no use in defending her, is there any use in attacking her as harshly as you seem determined to do? I hear a lot of people, here and elsewhere, suggesting that none of us is close enough to the Palin family to be in a position to judge a lot of what we think we're seeing here. And the point of Martha's previous comment wss emphatically not to rationalize Palin's or her daughter's actions as "a bizarre religious thing," but to situate them within a community and culture in which they make perfect sense. You're focused on Palin and judging her in terms that are going to infuriate women and alienate religious people who for some strange reason object to being treated with such contempt. Seems to me that others here are focused on the surrounding storm or the pack of wolves, because they're interested in a structural analysis of misogyny in media and political discourse rather than assigning blame to an individual.

    What IS the use in attacking her, Eitan? If she is as weak a candidate (and person) as you seem to think she is, you have nothing to fear from her, right? I really don't get the level of vitriol.

  16. I think that my animosity toward Sarah Palin is allowing me to live out the fantasy Bush-bashing I wish I could have done when he was a candidate the first time. Palin is cut from the same mold of extreme-right hypocrites as W was, and I feel like the story they're selling to the American public on her is the same old wives tale about compassionate conservatism... connecting with blue-collar voters... being a "reformer with results." It's the same crap they peddled 8 years ago, and I was too young then to engage in this kind of gleeful finger-pointing. Forgive me for my immaturity, but there are few things I love more than the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of dirt-dumb Republican opportunists.

    If Palin was a man, my contempt would be the same. If Palin were a Democrat, I think we all know that the right wing would be feasting on her insides. Hillary herself has made a seemingly life-long contract with the Democratic Party that she will fight the ugly right wing bullshit that has poisoned our nation, and I'm with her on that -- during the campaign, I was really, really into her whole "we will make those jackasses PAY for what they've done to us" appeal. I don't think this is really a time for us to prove that we can do it in a more delicate and PC way than they can. Obama clearly has the diplomatic approach to this, and I applaud him, but I don't exactly see why the rest of us have to play so nice.

    I won't let them make a martyr out of her, but I think it's legitimate to be concerned about her as a candidate. If you were worried about McCain's SCOTUS picks, wait til you hear what President Palin has in store.

  17. This is Goose again who simply wants to clarify that I had Bristol Palin in mind when I was making the point that she is impervious to the liberal media's or any of our judgments. And she doesn't care what those condemning her mother or her position vis-à-vis her mother's selection think because she's drawing on a strength within bestowed by her faith and a supportive congregation of those of similar faith (or that's my best guess). It may be hard for us to believe, but Bristol doesn't care, and is therefore not humiliated: she has made amends with her God and she doesn't think she has to explain anything to anyone else.

  18. Eitan -- Democrats will lose the election if, like you, they continue simply to belittle Palin, heap scorn on her world view, and underestimate her considerable political talents. So far most of what you've said has come across as an attack on the person, not her positions. Go read anything Anglachel has been posting on this issue as well as this piece by George Lakoff, which gets precisely at why I think what you've been saying is a recipe for electoral disaster. Lakoff is here:

  19. Candy Man9:37 AM EDT

    I'd simply like to note that I agree with Roxie and Historiann, and I take as a case in point the Bush daughters, who have done some fairly ridiculous and embarrassing things (to the great pleasure of the press and many Democrats) -- but who have never been the cause for suggesting W should resign (or shouldn't have run in the first place) to save his daughters from public scorn.

  20. Points taken, points taken. However, this would matter quite a bit more if I had, say, a considerable sphere of influence (like George Lakoff). As it stands, I'm just a pissed-off Dem mouthing off on a dog blog (albeit the greatest dog blog this side of My contempt for Sarah Palin and her worldview (which is legitimate, considering that her worldview is tied to her disastrous policies and selfish, corrupt approach to governance) is by and large a sermon to the choir, without any delusion that what I say matters to anyone other than a group of esteemed English professors at my University.

  21. Whether or not Roxie intended it, the Bristol Palin/Hester Prynne analogy is immensely insightful, especially when it comes to understanding how the socially conservative Republicans can make lemonade out of all these lemons. Although it's the Whigs, if I'm not mistaken, who so kindly poured the foundation for what we now refer to as the religious right, some might see the Puritans, particularly Hawthorne's depiction of them, as analogous to this bible-thumping constituency. Central to Hawthorne's characterization of Prynne is her willingness to proudly emblazon her guilt across her chest. At a crucial moment in the novel, Governor Bellingham threatens to take away Pearl from Hester. Hester's response resonates with the Bristol Palin situation, particularly what might seem to be the right's incongruous embrace of it: "'God gave me the child . . . He gave her in requital of all things else, which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness!--she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life. Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!'" Although some claim that McCain didn't vet Palin as thoroughly as he should have, I can't help but wonder if the campaign knew that they could use this situation to appeal to the conservative base, a constituency that has been lukewarm, at best, when it comes to McCain's nomination. Palin talks the talk and walks the walk and, in so doing, she, as well as her daughter, comes across as more human and willing to accept culpability. Close to the end of _The Scarlet Letter_, the Salemites, who earlier demand that Hester be branded on the forehead or executed, begin to see the letter "A" as standing for "able." It's exactly this transmutation that I'm worried about when it comes to this issue. While I'm wary of the argument that Palin should be excoriated for dragging her daughter's private life into daylight, I'm more concerned about how some bloggers from the left are playing right into the Republicans' grimy hands.

  22. Well, we always INTEND to be insightful, Geoffrey, whether we actually succeed or not. . . .

    And, Eitan, please don't wound our narcissism by suggesting that our audience is limited to a few English profs with way too much time on their hands over there at Queer the Turtle U. I mean, c'mon -- Historiann is, you know, a history prof, all the way out at Ba Ram U, and we got two hits today all the way from FRANCE! My fans are legion, and they are everywhere, so watch what you say, pal! ;-)


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