Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin & Abortion: Washed, Spun, & Hung Out to Dry

Mark Nielsen addresses a crowd of rabidly anti-Palin gray wolves in the north woods of Minnesota.

Mark Nielsen addresses a crowd of rabidly anti-Palin gray wolves in the north woods of Minnesota.

In honor of Governor Sarah “Caribou Barbie” Palin’s selection as the V.P. candidate, I’m sending this post from somewhere deep in the North Woods of Minnesota. (Okay, true confessions: I’m actually on a walking/riding trail in an Illinois forest preserve, no more than 100 yards from an intersection featuring a stoplight and a mini mart. But I did have to step over a lot of horse shit on the trail on my way to this ACTUAL stump, from which I will now deliver a rousing political speech.)

Hey, speaking of horse shit, how about that V.P. choice by Senator McCain?!

So, is this a bold, “maverick” choice by a maverick leader? (Here’s an idea: let’s get Maverick star James Garner as a back-up VP option… cowboy presidents play almost as well as war heroes in the Red States).

Or is Palin’s selection– as many center-to-left pundits are calling it– a Hail Mary pass with the clock running out?

At first, I did not have strong opinions on the choice when it was announced. I thought: “Alaska? That’s cool. I also liked that she’s not a career politician, but a young reformer and supermom (I refuse to demean myself and my country by referring to her as a “hockey mom”… this is the U.S.A., not Canada or Norway!) I liked that her faith — similar to Obama’s– seems genuine and keeps her grounded, that it’s not some cloak to put on or take off whenever it’s politically expedient to do so.

I knew the pick was gimmicky, a Republican attempt to win over some of the Hillary supporters and Reagan Democrats that are on the fence about Obama but don’t like McCain. So Palin was potentially a smart move, the “high risk/high reward” option that the party went with, since Huckabee, Giuliani, Ridge, Lieberman and Romney — the other front-runners for VP– all had their downsides, either religious or political. I acknowledged that her whole “beauty queen/bowhunter” persona and obvious charisma might go a long way toward winning over those voters for whom image is everything (though they’d deny it), and for whom McCain therefore seems out-of-touch and cranky, plus risky due to his age.

She was certainly the most interesting option. I mean, look at her:

Palin in a pantsuit, making McCain look good.


She’s like Diane Keaton with an Uzi, only not so California Flaky Liberal. What’s not to love, at least if you’re a thirty-to-sixty something evangelical or working-class Catholic suburbanite with strong “family values”, and a belief in “woman’s intuition” as the missing ingredient in American politics?

Then the story broke on Monday about Palin’s teenage daughter being pregnant, and I got off the fence. I now see the Palin pick for what it is: a slimy, hypocritical, gender-pandering, manipulative end-around, designed to dupe certain American voters yet again into irresponsible single-issue voting …that issue being abortion (as if I had to tell you). 

Even though a vote for McCain/Palin would go against  the country’s best interests in terms of the economy, national security, environmental responsibility, and experienced, wise government overall, religious conservatives were likely to love the pick because of Palin’s staunchly pro-life position (a position which McCain does not exactly share when it comes to stem cells, by the way, nor does his wife Cindy). The Palin pick was designed to be a sexy but heavyhanded olive branch, offered to influential religious and social conservatives like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, who until recently had all but given up on this election and on McCain.

Dobson and some of the megachurchers were probably starting to come back around anyway. But I’m sure McCain’s also been hearing the quiet buzz about the Obamicans, and therefore noted with some concern Barack’s realistic nod in his DNC speech to work at reducing abortions. (What Barack actually said, in checking the DNC transcript: “We may not agree on abortions, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”)

Ah, but that was all before the Bristol Palin teenage pregnancy story hit. Spin it all they want, that poor girl was the real  hurricane-force problem that the Republicans were wringing their hands about behind closed doors Monday, not some storm with a scary German name.

When I heard the news item, I immediately thought: is this really happening? Did they actually not know the girl was pregnant when they picked Sarah Palin? It sounds more like the plot twist in a David Mamet or Oliver Stone movie, the ironically amusing or gut-wrenching development which causes everyone to show their true colors. (I also thought of the book and movie Primary Colors, for obvious reasons.)

Sex has been the “wild card” in American presidential politics at least since FDR’s day, maybe even since Jefferson’s day. (Anyone remember Gary Hart?). In the Clinton era, lacking any substantive crime or policy-related issue to drag Bill and Al Gore down with, it took Monica-gate to send the Democrats limping out of the White House. That, and abortion. (I think Gore, also an evangelical Christian, is pro-choice.)

Thus, when I heard the Bristol Palin story, I thought, “Maybe they’re so calculating that they actually did know, but went ahead anyway, just to make it look like they tried  to get a woman on the ticket, and now they’re going to drop her during the convention and go with the man they really wanted in the first place (whoever that is).”

Nah. They ain’t that smart, and they know we ain’t that dumb. Besides, I know teens. I’ve been one. I’ve taught them. The poor girl was probably terrified to tell anybody she was pregnant (five months?!?), and then the whole rushed and mysterious process of vetting and selecting her mom went down before Bristol had a chance to come clean about her situation.

My opinion: McCain’s team didn’t know, because Sarah Palin didn’t know, or else she chose not to tell them about it. If she told them up front as they claim now — if she filled out the exhaustive and “intrusive” vetting questionnaire and included it on there —then let’s see the document. Plus I’ve seen the videotape from before the “official” pregnancy announcement, and the kid can obviously be seen hiding her baby bump with a jacket. I seriously doubt McCain’s handlers would have allowed a practically unknown VP candidate with such an obvious potential liability to go forward if they had known. 

But forward she went. And the Palins’ hand was forced, so that the “October surprise” of this election wouldn’t turn out to be a bouncing baby boy or girl. So then the McCains and Dobsons of the world had to do some major spin-control, saying they did know all along, but went ahead anyway because it didn’t matter. Now they’re saying the situation is one more example of Sarah Palin sacrificially living out her pro-life, pro-family values, because 1) they’re obviously going to keep the baby, and 2) after all, we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we have to love our children no matter what they do. 

As I predicted, Obama has taken the high road. He made a statement saying that it was “off-limits” for a campaign to get into anything related to a candidate’s family life. He also reminded us that he himself was born to an 18-year-old girl. Yeah, Barack’s no dummy. He’ll let the situation speak for itself: ambitious Sarah Palin, the ultimate token candidate, outed by her own family as a foolish hypocrite unable to manage her own household, let alone the nation.

And let me “out” myself on this: I’m basically pro-life. As a pacifist and a Christian– taking God at his word when He said He knew me in the womb, and that He also said “judge not, lest ye be judged”– I’m opposed to the taking of any life, whether it’s an embryo’s or a death row inmate’s. But I’m also aware that my own is an extreme minority position (especially the pacifist portion of it).

In framing abortion and the conditions that lead to it as an economic and educational problem, not just a religious one, I seek to address the problem through social activism, not legislation. We need to curb the destructive messages about sexuality in the media, and do so in our families AND schools, while also acknowledging that Pandora’s box is already open. We can’t legislate morality, nor can we re-parent every child of every messed-up family. That means effective and consistent birth control messages should be pressed even harder than we’re pressing the messages about drinking, drugs, the climate crisis, immigration, whatever social problem you want to bring up. It means we should support adoption much more strongly than we do as a nation, not just in principle but with better policies and support for women to bring babies to term. And it means attacking poverty as a “pro-life” issue, no less so than abortion. An unborn baby in Alaska has no more and no less value in the eyes of God than one born with AIDS in Africa, or with fetal alcohol syndrome in Detroit, or with a silver spoon in its mouth like Geoge Bush and John McCain had.

Abortion is certainly a sin. So are lying, cheating, and stealing (elections included).

So I’m not attacking the Republicans or the Palins for their pro-life position, just for their cynicism, self-involved policies, and narrow-minded clumsiness. I honestly wish some Republican would come along who doesn’t insult the intelligence of the American public. A few years back I wondered if McCain was that guy. But he’s changed. I don’t trust him anymore.

In contrast, I don’t agree with Obama on about 25% of his positions, but I do trust him. I’m further left on some issues, like specific foreign policy situations, and further right on others, like abortion. But I’m not a single-issue voter. And I know I’m an odd bird. I also recognize we’ve been presented with nothing but  “baby-killers” as candidates, from both parties, for as long as anyone can remember. It all comes down to who you define as the babies, and how old they are (isn’t an 18-year-old, unnecessarily killed in Iraq, still a “baby” to his or her mother and father?).

These issues are all related. For example, in China, where abortion has become commonplace, they’re courting American political and economic interests like crazy. So does the presidential candidate with the smartest and most just anti-China policy therefore end up being the true pro-life candidate, simply by virtue of condemning that nation’s multitude of human rights abuses (at every age)?

Ultimately, it comes down to which candidate has the widest scope, the clearest vision, in their plan to preserve and improve the lives of as many babies (and grownups) as possible. So yes, the focus should not be on a candidate’s family life, but on their good judgment and character, as seen in their family as well as their local, state and national policy record. On the family front, with her willingness to put her own daughter in harm’s way, all the hard evidence I see regarding Sarah Palin so far is pretty damning.  

Heck, even Hollywood head case and former wild-ass teenager Lindsay Lohan can see that, as she points out on her blog this week. It took a small child to point out that the proverbial emperor had no clothes on. Maybe through her own mistakes, Lindsay’s wised up enough to help us all get wise.

Tomorrow: some analysis of Palin’s RNC speech tonight, and some troubling background on her “natural resources” agenda and record in Alaska.



  1. Anyone who supports the legalized killing of unborn babies is not fit to be elected dog catcher, let alone any higher office. This pro-life pacifistic Mennonite thinks Obama stinks as a candidate.

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