Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zero at the bone

Anybody who is still buying the hockey-mom family-values line about Sarah Palin needs to dig out the September 22 issue of The New Yorker and read, as I just did, Philip Gourevitch's piece, "The State of Sarah Palin." Gourevitch is wonderfully even-handed in his overview of Alaska politics, particularly with regard to Senator Ted Stevens. Currently under indictment for taking money and gifts from Veco Oil, like most of the state legislature it seems, Stevens has become a joke in much of the media but remains popular in his state. Long before the "bridge to nowhere," he secured millions of federal dollars to build bridges, highways and airports that Alaskans really needed. He also got them the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which sounds like a pork-barrel punchline until you reflect on what volcanic ash can do to a plane's engines.

Gourevitch is less impressed by Palin, whose meteoric rise from the Wasilla City Council to national prominence seems to combine opportunism and incompetence. He details the Trooper Wooten affair and the sports arena fiasco, while acknowledging that she made no attempt to "impose her religious or social views." He quotes Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, to the effect that "This election is not about issues," implying that it is and should be about "character." And then comes this chilling passage:

"The campaign said that it was going public [about Bristol Palin's pregnancy] in order to quash offensive rumors that were circulating on the Internet: that Sarah Palin's five-month-old baby, Trig, who has Down syndrome, was not really hers but Bristol's, and that the Governor had faked her pregnancy in order to cover for her unwed daughter. This Faulknerian story had been making the rounds in Alaska for months...and it derived from the peculiar circumstances surrounding Trig's birth. Sarah Palin had not announced her pregnancy until she was seven months along. A month later, she was in Texas to address a conference, when her water broke. She decided to give the speech and then return to Wasilla to deliver the child. By way of explaining this all-day odyssey (most obstetricians advise against air travel in the eighth month, never mind during labor, and most airlines forbid it), Todd Palin later remarked, 'You can't have a fish picker' -- a commercial fisherman -- 'from Texas.'"

The Palins have a history as Alaska separatists, so it makes sense that they wouldn't want their son born in a "foreign country." I'd like to suggest, however, that there is more than one way to interpret this. You are an anti-choice politician who finds herself pregnant for the fifth time at age 43. You learn that the baby will have Down syndrome. Abortion is not an option. You book a trip to Texas in your eighth month, go into labor, decide to make your speech anyway and then board a plane for the long flight home. Does this sound like the action of a "mom" who doesn't really care if a baby with a profound birth defect survives? If he lives, she's a gutsy woman who won't be stopped by a little thing like childbirth. If he doesn't, she can count on a tsunami of public sympathy. "God called our little baby home."

This woman is colder than Barrow in December. I hope she never gets within five time zones of Washington, but if the worst come to the worst, she would be a fitting successor to Darth Cheney, apart from one detail. When Cheney shot a man in the face, it was probably an accident. With Palin, you could never be sure.

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