U.S. Politics as Reality T.V.

Bristol Palin holding baby brother Trig at the Republican National Convention. Photo from huffingtonpost.com
Bristol Palin holding baby brother Trig at the Republican National Convention. Photo from huffingtonpost.com

From all accounts, the Palin family saga has stolen the thunder from John McCain’s formal acceptance of the GOP’ s nomination as presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention. McCain made a surprise choice of the 44-year old governor of Alaska, a mother of five and self-described “soccer mom”, as his running mate. Palin is easy on the eyes, a former Miss Alaska runner-up and winner of Miss Congeniality, who has a reputation for being a spunky, hands-on administrator, “the hottest governor of the coldest state”. She has a good-looking, all-American family, including 4-month old son Trig, who is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome. Palin is an outspoken pro-life advocate, one reason why McCain chose her, and refused to terminate her pregnancy despite prior knowledge of her youngest child’s condition.

As things turned out, Palin has more than a few skeletons rattling in her closet. Which makes for a good dramatic narrative in this age of reality T.V. Gov. Palin is embroiled in an ethics investigation over allegations she maneuvered the revenge firing of a state trooper who was married to her sister. Hubby Todd was once arrested, albeit years ago, for driving under the influence of alcohol. The National Enquirer even ran a piece alleging that Gov. Palin has had an extramarital affair with her husband’s business partner.

The biggest story, as far as the tabloids are concerned, is the pregnancy of the governor’s unmarried 17-year old daughter, Bristol, who’s still in high school. The father is Bristol’s boyfriend and schoolmate, 18-year old ice-hockey player Levi Johnston, a handsome lad described by NYT columnist Maureen Dowd as “sex on skates”.

Poor Bristol was at her family’s side during Palin’s nomination looking frightened and bewildered, coddling baby Trig (according of one rumor, actually her baby) “still absorbing the shocking news that she was about to turn into tabloid roadkill”, in the words of Ms. Dowd.

All the domestic drama surrounding the Pailin family has diverted the public from bigger issues relating to Gov. Palin’s qualifications to assume the position commonly described as a heartbeat away from the presidency. One is her almost zero foreign policy exposure. She has hardly ever been out of the U.S. mainland, except for a short visit to U.S. troops in war zones (her 19-year old son, Track, is about to be deployed overseas with the Army). To her detractors, her outlook seems shockingly parochial, limited by the “frontier mentality” prevalent in Alaska. Another is her support of the oil industry and her championing of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The big oil companies just love her. Palin has even gone on record as saying that global warming is NOT man-made. Her “green” credentials, never mind her common sense, are therefore highly suspect.

No matter. The Palins’ dysfunctionalities will resonate with Americans expecting the maudlin spectacles of reality T.V. to carry over into the political arena. To be fair, Ms. Palin has brought a lot to the table and has energized the party at a point when its 72-year old standard bearer is trailing at the polls. Not only will she appeal to the conservative right, she may also draw undecided women voters still smarting from Hillary Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama. With her reputation as a reformist (although of the right-wing persuasion), she will provide the counterpoint to the Obama campaign’s change-oriented agenda.

Overall, she’s a good choice for veep, if only for the entertainment factor.

Dems should not underestimate Sarah Palin. Already, she gets part of the credit for McCain moving ahead of Obama, 48% to 45%, according to the latest Gallup poll. This is also McCain’s largest advantage over Obama since early May, when the latter led by as much as six percentage points.

Pregnant Bristol Palin with beau Levi Johnston. Photo from the hollywoodgossip.com
Pregnant Bristol Palin with beau Levi Johnston. Photo from the hollywoodgossip.com

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