Thursday, September 4, 2008

Children of politicans are off limits to opposing parties - but not to their parents

There's a double standard in coverage of Sarah Palin. There's the double standard of asking if a women with young children will have competing interests when running the country and the invariable sexism that comes when a women enters the public sphere, which are complete crap and bullshit.*

However, there's also a double standard when it comes to her children.

Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town points out that she devotes much more time talking about her sons than about her daughters. When introducing them in Dayton after she joined the ticket, she spent 5 seconds introducing her daughters and 105 seconds introducing her sons.

Very uneven and we find out nothing about her daughters.

Since the speech in Dayton, it's been made clear by both campaigns that families and children are off-limits in political discourse. I agree. If we truly want to make this about issues, then it's low to critique these children who just happen to have parents with political ambitions. Growing up and finding out who you are is hard enough; doing it on a national and international stage is just torture.

However, what happens when the parents use the children for political purposes? Last night in her VP acceptance speech, Palin talked about her sons, one who is going to Iraq next week and her newborn, who was born with Down syndrome. She said:

And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief. I'm just one of many moms who'll say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm's way.

Our son Track is 19.

And one week from tomorrow - September 11th - he'll deploy to Iraq with the Army infantry in the service of his country.

My nephew Kasey also enlisted, and serves on a carrier in the Persian Gulf.

My family is proud of both of them and of all the fine men and women serving the country in uniform. Track is the eldest of our five children.

In our family, it's two boys and three girls in between - my strong and kind-hearted daughters Bristol, Willow, and Piper.

And in April, my husband Todd and I welcomed our littlest one into the world, a perfectly beautiful baby boy named Trig. From the inside, no family ever seems typical.

That's how it is with us.

Our family has the same ups and downs as any other ... the same challenges and the same joys.

Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge.

And children with special needs inspire a special love.

To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters.

I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.
She's politicizing her family, yet expecting others not to do the same. It's quite a double standard to tell the media to back off, yet champion two of her children and various policies that affect their lives. She's only talking about the children (sons) of hers that actively contribute to the campaign positively (although Piper, the littlest girl is suuuuper cute. Last night during the speech, she was holding her baby brother and she licked her palm to smooth down his hair... CUTE). It's the worst kind of hypocrisy because it tells the girls that they're not to be discussed, unless they're going off to war.

Can we look to politician's families as indicators of their various policy stances? I'm not sure. It's tough to say. It's hard to separate using families as unnecessary and unfounded attacks and seeing the ways politics influence and shape every day lives.

And for the record, as governor of Alaska, Palin cut funding to the Special Education program by 62% from 2007 (passed before she entered office) to 2008 and 2009. Additionally, she slashed funding to Covenant House, a program in Alaska that helps youth - including teen mothers.

Just sayin'.

*For those of you confused about why I'm defending Palin from sexist remarks and double standards, it's because she's a woman. Even though I disagree with basically every policy of hers, (including but not limited to her anti-choice, pro-drilling, anti-gay rights, and pro-book banning policies), feminism doesn't mean supporting and defending just the people I agree with - it means everyone. So you can vote for her or not - but don't call her a bitch.


Irishgirl said...

While her imbalance in talking about her sons and daughters is really shitty, I have to take issue with your assertion about her family. The argument that since she talks about them and uses them as political tools then that makes them "fair game" sounds suspiciously like a belief about rape victims that feminists are figting to this day. Yes, she can talk about them and still take offense when people, say, insult her daughter.

Amelia said...

Excellent post! Thanks for writing it.

Amelia said...

Irishgirl, I moderated your comment after I left my first one otherwise I would have responded to you sooner. I think your comparison of blaming rape victims to Palin politicizing her own family is absurd (not to sound too harsh).

Lindsay's post did bring up a good point. When is it okay to bring the children of politicians into the spotlight to be scrutinized? Many currently believe that the media should stay out of these children's lives. I agree with that. But I think that Palin is doing something just as bad when she brings her own family into the spotlight (for preparing to serve in Iraq/having special needs) to serve her political ends.

It's wrong, IMHO, for the media to be bashed for it when Palin is making calculated moves to politicize her own family. And like Lindsay said, she only highlights the children (both of whom happen to be male, although I don't know how much weight that really carries in this particular argument) that will make her more appealing to voters because they just so happen to reflect her policies.

Lindsay said...

I've thought about this a lot in the past few days, trying to discern if there's some clear cut line as to the level of involvement surrounding politician's children. Honestly, I don't think there is - it depends from family to family, how widely known the politician is, the age of the children, etc. Also, there's the question of what constitutes involvement: being at political event? Being on stage? Being mentioned in a speech? Actively campaigning for their parent? I'm not clear on this, so that's part of the reason I wrote the post.

For example, I think this primaries offered a good example of what I'm talking about. The Clintons made it clear during the 90's that Chelsea was off limits. Then during the primaries, she went around campaigning for Hillary, which led some pundits to say that Hillary was "pimping" out her daughter. ( The comment, in my opinion, was uncalled for and mean. However, I also think that since Chelsea is campaigning for her mom (and is 27 years old as opposed to 12 in 1992), she is open to legitimate criticism - key word being legitimate, such as comments on her mom's policies, etc. Personal life is still off limits, but all criticism isn't. Chelsea isn't a minor being dragged along to campaign stops - she's actively deciding to be there, supporting Hillary, so by doing that, she's opening herself up to any potential policy-based criticism.

In Palin's case, it seems hypocritical to say that talking about families are off limits, but then mention her sons in her speeches. To me, I feel like it's a case of "Only I can beat up my brother" (but without the negative tone). I don't think my post indicated that I thought the media should insult her children, in fact, I think just the opposite. They didn't accept the VP role so they should be left alone.

However, when the family takes part in political rallies or becomes politicized (as with her youngest child during her speech), are they still off limits? When Palin mentions her children as an indicator of her policies (Iraq, special education), is it fair to only consider the children she mentions and not the others? Is there any legitimate point where we can look to her family as a jumping point for considering her politics? Can we clearly separate the attacks from an attempt at a well-intentioned debate?

I'm really not sure on any of these questions - that's why I wrote the post and wanted to engage in discussion. Let me make this clear one last time - in no way am I endorsing or supporting unfounded attacks on Palin's family or the way she's raised her family. However, I am wondering if there's any time when it's appropriate to look to her family and put it in dialogue with her policy choices - especially when she herself does that in her acceptance speech.

Lindsay said...

I also want to clarify, I think character-based attacks on her children are out of bounds as well.

But that begs the question if there's anyway to talk about her family without having it be character-based - maybe, maybe not. I really don't know.

Amelia said...

After thinking about this a bit, this is what I have been thinking about a bit.

There is indeed a difference between a grown child who actively chooses to politicize themself by campaigning for their parent, or being involved in some other way. I would agree that that opens them up to comments about their parent's policies. Nothing else.

When it comes to other children (either minor children or children who did not decide to take an active role in their parent's political ambitions), I think that they should really be left out of the picture for a couple of reasons.

1) If they are brought up as being open for comment, I think it would be much to easy to make the focus on them personal, because really, what is their tie to their parent's politics, other than their parent being political?

and 2) I firmly believe that if a person is so strongly convicted about their policies and their stands on issues, they should be able to make that clear without involving their family. Sure, having a family may affect your ideas about certain issues, but why do we [the voters] need to know why you believe something? Isn't it enough merely to know that you believe it?

I guess that does bring up some issues with getting people to vote for you. Because coming off as a "typical" American with a good family and a good solid basis for your beliefs is important for relating to voters who, in the end, are the ones casting the ballot.

But I have an issue with that as well. The insane amount of pressure to be seen as "typical" (married, religious, good kids/spouse, etc.) is bullshit since I don't really believe in the idea of a "typical" American to begin with.

So basically, I think that unless a family member chooses to be an active member in a parent's campaign, there really should be little focus on the family. Just the issues.

Renee said...

I commend you for your commitment to feminism. I also spoke out against the sexism that she faces though I think that she is a collduer. I agree that accepting sexism because we don't like the woman that it is aimed at is wrong, though it kills me to speak in her defense.
Her gender biases are very clear and you quite right to point out that she never mentions any achievement by her daughters. Clearly this woman has so internalized patriarchal values that she believes something is only an accomplishment when it performed by a male. There is simply nothing about this woman that is pro woman.

The Great American said...

I think your wrong about Sarah Palin talking about her kids. She is acting as any typical mother. She talked about her son, Track in the military because she is proud of her son who has volunteered himself to the service of his country. As the son of a mother who had another son in the service, I undwerstand it completely. My mom used to go on and on about my brother service and how proud she was of him. While she rarely talked about me all that much. And I was more than ok with it. She was proud and it didn't make me feel bad because she didn't say how proud of me she was to her friends and family. But she told me and thats all that matters. And also of course shes going to talk about her newborn son Trig, what mother doesn't constantly gush over their babies? And her baby does have down syndrome and of course she would use her position as VP to help others in similar situations. Wouldn't you, if in a position such as VP, dedicate some of your time to raising awareness to something close to your heart?. I dont think she was "politicizing" her boys at all. I think she was just doing what mothers do.

D said...

Frankly, as I've said in other places...

I find bringing her family up to be important.

Considering she's a strong advocate of abstinence-only education as the "only" way to prevent teen pregnancy... It shows that she can't even make such a flawed policy work at home.