When is a politician’s family a private matter?

A commenter on my blog recently said, regarding the controversy over whether Sarah Palin is Trig Palin’s mother:

Should we care about this? I don’t think so. If Palin faked a pregnancy to protect her daughter, she’s being a good mother. I don’t like Palin’s politics, but really, this is pure sleaze, and has nothing to do with the presidential election.

In the general case, do politicians have an expectation of privacy? To put it another way, when is a politician’s family a private matter?

I think there are four situations where it does matter:

Situation 1. If a politician is breaking the law.

Situation 2. Where a politician is using their family as prop to get them elected, particularly if they are trying to present an image of a perfect family and the reality is different. If a politician makes their family an object of discussion, then discussing their family is fair.

Situation 3. When a politician’s private life is at odds with their public pronouncements.

Situation 4. When a politician’s private life reveals that they are less fit for office then they might otherwise be, because they are incompetent, stupid, dishonest, power-abusing, or just plain nasty.

Andrew Sullivan appears to agree, at least regarding the 2nd situation:

And this [the speculation regarding Trig] would be a private matter if the McCain-Palin campaign hadn’t made the baby a key campaign point. Once they made it a reason to vote for someone, it’s reasonable for bloggers to ask questions about it, especially when there are so many strange twists to the story.

And also:

If the first thing that the McCain-Palin campaign puts out there is a Down Syndrome baby, and the main argument for Palin is about the authenticity of her lifestyle, are we not allowed to respond? The antics over her sister with nine-children and no live-in dads is relevant because Palin dragged her public office into it.

Either Trig is Sarah’s son or Trig is the son Sarah’s daughter Bristol (it’s technically possible that neither Sarah nor Bristol are Trig’s mother, but that’s such a convoluted and unlikely possibility I will leave it). If Sarah is Trig’s mum, then her behaviour in giving a speech after her waters have broken, and then flying to Alaska rather than giving birth in Texas was recklessly unwise and speaks badly of her judgement (Situation 4).

If Bristol is Trig’s mum, then Sarah’s a liar (dishonesty; Situation 4), who misjudged that she could get away with the lie (incompetence; Situation 4), and also invented a silly convoluted story about getting back from Texas in a hurry.

If in Alaska it’s considered immoral to be an unmarried and Sarah is trying to prevent Bristol from suffering the stigma by pretending the baby is hers, then there would have been better ways to prevent Bristol from suffering the stigma. For example: encouraging her to use contraception, encouraging/allowing her to have an abortion, work to reduce the stigma suffered by unmarried mothers. But all these options would be at odds with the “family values” that the Republicans, and particularly the religious right, seem to believe in. Which means, if that’s what happened, it’s very much a legitimate issue (Situation 3).

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5 Responses to When is a politician’s family a private matter?

  1. Dave says:

    I can’t believe that there are no pictures or video clips of the 43 year old expectant mother Sarah floating around the state of Alaska. “Lets go to the video tape”.

  2. mary person says:

    You overlook the likelihood that this entire plot was hatched by Republicans who want American voters to believe Democrats stirred up this rumor to smear Sarah Palin at the expense of her young daughter Bristol.
    In the end, they believe, it will all be worth the toll this rumor will be taking on Bristol. If they can win this election through sympathy votes, they’ll make it up to Bristol later.

  3. cabalamat says:

    Mary Person: You overlook the likelihood that this entire plot was hatched by Republicans who want American voters to believe Democrats stirred up this rumor to smear Sarah Palin at the expense of her young daughter Bristol.

    Or maybe Trig’s mother is really an alien from the planet Zarg.

  4. Grace says:

    Sarah Palin’s opposition to teaching about birth control in schools and to abortion FOR ANY REASON except possible fatal consequences to the pregnant woman presents what may be a 5th reason for her family life to be within limits.

    It is very reasonable to regard Bristol Palin as a possible (even likely) victim of her mother’s extremely harsh and unrealistic political positions.

    Situation 4 may also apply in the case of Bristol’s pregnancy: If Bristol Palin’s choices would have been birth control and, failing that, abortion or even adoption, Sarah Palin infliction of her own political beliefs on the girl, forcing her to bear this child, is something that many people (including myself) see as cruel and abusive.

    Sarah Palin has completely cut off her daughter’s chances of choice, and especially because she has chosen to run for vice-president, Bristol is completely roped into having the baby and marrying the father. Even running away to have an abortion or not marrying are not options for Bristol as such actions could cost McCain/Palin the White House.

    For all we know, Bristol Palin may be a human sacrifice to the ambitions of John McCain and her own mother.

    A friend has wondered how much the boyfriend might be making off the deal. He’s stated he didn’t want to marry. How much did it take — a few million perhaps? — to agree to marry Bristol? It’s just another question that points, very reasonably, to the question of Sarah Palin’s character as it plays out within her family.

  5. cabalamat says:

    @4 Grace: A friend has wondered how much the boyfriend might be making off the deal. He’s stated he didn’t want to marry. How much did it take — a few million perhaps? — to agree to marry Bristol?

    Maybe he’ll be offered a job working for the Alaska state government.

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