Sunday, January 11, 2009

Double Standard?

NB: I saw this yesterday, and was going to write something about it, but was still recovering from a wonderful gastro-intestinal bug that hit me like a Peterbilt Friday morning shortly after I got home from work. I was still physically weak from the onslaught, but am feeling much better.

Poor Sarah Palin. She casts herself as a victim of horrid, evil, liberal journalists who used a double-standard in approaching her own family and that of either Barack Obama or Joe Biden. Obviously, if she had been a liberal Democrat no one would have thought to examine her private life.

Over at Fire Dog Lake, Julia takes issue with Gov. Palin's insistence that the scrutiny she faced on this front was the result of media bias. While she makes a persuasive case, I think Julia misses a larger point.

While it is true, as Julia notes, that both the media and the Republican standard-bearers managed to include criticisms of President-elect Obama's wife in their campaign rhetoric, I think everyone can agree there was a larger-than-normal interest in the private life of Gov. Palin. Part of that was due, I think, to the simple fact that she was unknown on the national stage. Sen. McCain had been around, and the story of his marriages, etc., had been told and settled for quite some time. Everyone knew Sen. Biden had suffered a tragic loss, and dealt with it bravely, early on in his life and political career. While new as well, there seemed little in Obama's current life to attract attention. There was some scrutiny by some right-wingers over his birth certificate, whether he was really born in Hawaii or not, and the role his Muslim stepfather may or may not have played in his life at one time, but since most of this was the result of political senescence on the part of the right, it resulted more in derision than anything else.

For my part, I believe the scrutiny Gov. Palin's family life received was rooted less in sexism and political bias than it was in the kind of schadenfreude many feel in exposing moral hypocrisy. Part of the wing of the Republican Party that continues to insist that personal private character traits are, or should be, considered as contiguous with our public commitments and lives, she seemed to invite those who might wish to get to know her to take a look at her family. She trotted out her baby son, Trig, as evidence of her strong family values (a late-life baby with Downs' Syndrome whose birth showed their commitment to pro-life values, so goes the argument). I was personally disgusted with all the attention paid to the pregnancy of her daughter Bristol, yet since Gov. Palin was part of the Republican Party that crows about the evils of teen sexuality, it could at least be argued that here, if nowhere else, there was a lapse in the continuity between her espoused beliefs and her actual practice.

I do not believe Gov. Palin received critical press, however, because of her family life. I think it might have been more intrusive if for no other reason than there seems to be an audience for these kind of private portraits. By adding in her own adherence to a certain set of political principles that see no difference between how one conducts one's personal life and the conduct of public business, however, I think the whole issue of "double standard" dissolves. She was held, not to a double standard, but to her own.

And found wanting.

Virtual Tin Cup

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