A teenage pregnancy and US presidential elections (News Analysis)

September 2nd, 2008 - 2:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Chicago, Sep 2 (IANS) In this season thick with ideological intransigence, the news that the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant is symptomatic of how irresolvable the pregnancy-abortion-abstinence debate really is. Conservatives seem to conveniently forget that the other side of the anti-abortion coin, which they frequently toss to settle a profound sociological debate, is abstinence by their own argument. On that score Bristol Palin’s five-month old pregnancy pushes conservatives on the defensive, but given the self-serving tendency of any election campaign it is already being projected as a proud moment by the Palins.

“Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned,” Sarah and Todd Palin said in a statement issued by the Republican campaign.

At the risk of casting a lurid light on what is essentially a deeply personal matter, by simple arithmetic Bristol Palin was most likely sexually active well before she was 16, the age at which the US allows its citizens to apply for a driver’s license. At the very least, her daughter’s teen pregnancy puts Sarah Palin, who is the Governor of Alaska and a strong anti-abortion advocate, in a potentially untenable situation.

A mother of five children herself at 44, Sarah Palin is fast emerging as a darling of evangelical Christians who not only strongly oppose abortion rights as a license to murder but in many ways oppose family planning. For them the news that not only will Bristol Palin keep her child but even marry the young man who fathered it is a cause for celebration.

In their eye, by that one act Sarah Palin has infinitely reinforced her credentials as a conservative. This is notwithstanding that the same conservatives strongly favor abstinence as a way to reduce teenage pregnancies. Given the intensity of the debate and the profile of the girl’s family it appeared next to impossible that the boyfriend, identified only as Levi, had any option but to agree to marry her.

It is odd to herald the rise of the first ever female nominee for vice president by the Republican Party when one considers rather curious credentials of the Alaska governor.

A lifelong membership of the doctrinaire National Rifle Association (NRA), support for the introduction of creationism in school curriculum as a counterbalance to the theory of evolution and opposition to of women’s right to choose are some of the more obvious features of her political philosophy that make Palin a very peculiar but inevitable choice. A former second runner-up in a local beauty pageant with a passion for hunting merely add to Palin’s sparse political profile.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain had to do something truly out of the ordinary in order to take the intense spotlight away from his Democratic rival Barack Obama, whose acceptance speech at his party’s convention was treated as a combined performance by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Short of unleashing groupies on to the stage the Democratic Party did everything to strengthen his rock star appeal.

McCain had no choice but do come up with a running so far-out and yet so conventional that he would regain some of the lost ground.

It has been reported that during the vetting process, McCain and his campaign staff knew about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. It is a measure of how much McCain wanted to stand out that he chose to oversaw a potentially disastrous issue and went ahead in choosing Palin.

Quite expectedly Palin had already come under some harsh media glare even before the news of the pregnancy became known. Well known comic and host of The Daily Show Jon Stewart described Sarah Palin as McCain’s “third wife”, while the more acerbic TV commentator and comic Bill Maher called her a stewardess. Her daughter’s pregnancy is bound to make the divide between the conservatives and liberals even wider and more acute with neither side giving any quarter to the other. What is more the climate of invective is bound to become more intense.

Obama has been measured in his response to the news saying it “has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.” He also pointed out that, “My mother had me when she was 18. How a family deals with issues and teen-age children - that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics. “So,” he added, “I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.”

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