XX Factor bloggers Ann Hulbert, Rachael Larimore, and Emily Yoffe discuss Sarah Palin.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Sept. 4 2008 2:36 PM

Parsing Palin

XX Factor bloggers take readers' questions about the Republican vice-presidential nominee and her speech.

(Continued from Page 2)

Yes, the instant announcement in response that Bristol was pregnant was a way of killing that rumor. But seeing Bristol on stage last night, unless they had decided to send her to sit out the campaign with Aunt Edna in Kodiak, there is no way to hide that fact that she's pregnant.

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Washington, DC: Did Nancy Pelosi, who is also the mother of 5, ever face criticism for campaigning for office with that many kids at home?

Emily Yoffe: I believe Pelosi waited until the youngest was at least school age before she began her political career. I'm not saying Sarah Palin shouldn't be having a political career, just that the two made different decisions.

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Philadelphia, PA: I wasn't happy reading all the discussions about who was the parent of Palin's youngest, and would have been quite happy if everyone had left her underage daughter alone once Palin made the announcement about her pregnancy and the McCain campaign asked she be left alone—as did the Obama campaign.

However, as Palin has made being a "hockey mom" her key identifier, how can she turn around and ask the country to leave her family out of any discussion? It's not just the hypocrisy of praising her daughter's choice (and her own) to bear the baby when that's a choice she wants to prevent anyone else from having, or the fact that she's cut funding for programs to help teenage mothers, it's that she wants people to identify with her as a parent. And if that's the case, then she is inviting scrutiny of her parenting, which means scrutiny of her children.

If she had real, positive political experience (Something that wasn't a disaster—how do you manage to run up a $20 million deficit in a small town in just a few years? How do you make it so a small town that's survived quite well with just a mayor suddenly needs to hire a town manager to take care of the problems you've created? How do you turn a state that's survived quite nicely on its oil money to one dependent on absurd earmarks? How does selling a plane on eBay translate to good governance—what sort of vetting process is involved to make sure, for example, that the plane is being bought by someone who won't use it to fly into a building?) or in foreign affairs or in the military or in education she could perhaps have something else to use as her tag, but she doesn't. So she calls herself a "hockey mom" and we're supposed to ignore her family.

I just feel sorry for her kids. I questioned her judgment when I first heard what she'd named them, and not one single thing she's said since has made me stop questioning her judgment.

Ann Hulbert: The question of how much intrusive scrutiny Palin's family should have to endure is a tricky one. Her husband, of course, was quite aware that his jobs, activities, driving record etc would be open for discussion; Geraldine Ferraro's experience made that perfectly clear. The treatment of kids in the political limelight is a much blurrier business—both in campaigns, and in office. The Clintons barricaded Chelsea against the press, and often got criticized for it. The Bush girls, who were older, came in for some I'm sure unwanted exposure. For the Palin, a key part of whose appeal is her maternal competence and her family values, the issue is front and central. A pregnant underage daughter can't be off bounds entirely, and at least so far Palin has tried to set the terms of the scrutiny—and for all the Republican complaints about a media with animus, I would say there has been surprisingly little prurience (or at least I've missed it), or even extended focus in the mainstream media on the issues it raises. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

Rachael Larimore: I think our introduction to Palin's family is part of the rollout—a rollout that was certainly bumpier than many of us could have predicted. (And maybe they didn't intend to discuss quite this amount of information!) As Ann points out, her family life is part of her appeal. Now that we've seen her at the convention, and as soon as the storm over her pregnant daughter passes, I think the McCain campaign will try to steer the conversation more toward her other qualifications. Both because McCain has largely kept his children out of the spotlight, and because America needs to learn more about Palin on substantive issues.

If the scrutiny on the family continues, though, I do think that Palin has an obligation to address things as they come up.

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Los Angeles: I have read a lot today about the "passion" of the crowd during last night's Palin speech. I actually watched the speech, and it seemed to me that the people in attendance were "going through the motions," e.g. cheering on call and chanting USA, etc. Did anyone else sense this as well? Where was the passion that everyone is talking about?

Emily Yoffe: I have to disagree. From my perspective on the couch, they seemed galvanized. Slate's John Dickerson, who was there, also reported that the crowd was wild for her.

I had been thinking this choice was lunatic on McCain's part, but last night, at least, she came off as a serious, capable, and fresh person. There's a long way to go, however, especially when the teleprompter disappears.

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Concord, NH: I've noticed that most of the comments on whether or not Gov. Palin can juggle her family demands with her public responsibilities seems to come from women. I'm not sure that men (as a group) are as concerned about this. Would you agree?

Emily Yoffe: Great point. Aren't men too intimidated to weigh in? This "Mommy War" dialogue has been going on for a long time. So much of it involves defensiveness and projection about one's own choices. Maybe men don't even think about these things in the same terms we do.

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Springfield, VA: Barack Obama has two young daughters. How much time can he spend with them as POTUS? Will he be able to help them with homework, tuck them in a night, take them to a doctors appointment. Oh, I see, he has a wife to do all that. So I guess a woman with children can't run for public office...only men.

Emily Yoffe: That's exactly the other side of the "How can she do this with five kids?" argument. Obama has talked about how painful it is to be away from his kids—yet he's made the sacrifice. Although if John McCain is elected and remains healthy, Sarah Palin will have plenty of free time as vice president for the PTA.

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Bethesda: "The Clintons barricaded Chelsea against the press, and often got criticized for it."

Not that it stopped Rush Limbaugh from criticizing the 13-year-old's looks, or John McCain from saying she was so ugly because Janet Reno was her father.

Emily Yoffe: I don't think the Clintons got much criticism for protecting young Chelsea, and the incidents you cite were ugly and repulsive. Hasn't McCain expressed regret for his remarks (not sure about Limbaugh!).

However, at the beginning of Hillary's campaign they were clearly so used to Chelsea being in a bubble that the campaign was acting as if it was still out of bounds for the press to ask any questions of this now adult woman hedge fund employee. Finally, Chelsea started speaking. And she was an effective campaigner for her mother (better than her father!).

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