As Sarah Palin's Family Life Becomes Public, Will She Stay on the GOP Ticket?
The questions surrounding the family life of the putative Republican vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are deepening and not going to go away, despite efforts by Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain to move on to other issues.
In the past 36 hours, a Daily Kos blogger assembled photographs and other documentation alleging that Palin was the grandmother, not the mother of five-month-old Trig Palin, the infant she has said is her fifth child. The Kos reports said that Palin has been "lying" for months about the infant's parentage, in order to protect the child's real mother, her 17-year-old daughter.
Then on Monday, in response to a Reuters report about those allegations, the McCain campaign released a statement from Sarah and Todd Palin that said their 17-year-old daughter was now pregnant, and would carry the baby and soon marry the father. The campaign's response implies that Palin's daughter could not be the five-month-old infant's mother because of her current pregnancy.
"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," the Palins' statement said. "We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."
Asked Monday, Obama said the Palin pregnancy should be "off limits."
"Let me be as clear as possible... I think people's families are off limits and people's children are especially off limits," he said while campaigning in Michigan, adding his mother was 18 years old when she gave birth. "It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as governor or her potential performance as vice president."
There is little chance the media will respect the Palin family's privacy, not when there are legitimate larger questions about what the surprise choice of Palin as McCain's running mate reveals about the GOP presidential candidate's judgment and temperament. The facts surrounding the Palin family's pregnancies may not become known, but they do suggest the Alaska governor will at the very least have many distractions while she is campaigning this fall, to say nothing of her fitness to become commander-in-chief.
Whether Palin will remain on the 2008 GOP ticket is not a matter of idle speculation. Recent presidential campaigns have seen candidacies abruptly end after candidates are caught lying or are burdened by the disclosure of personal issues that question their ability to lead.
Just 20 years ago, the Democrats' vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Deleware) saw his own presidential bid implode after he plagiarized British politician Neil Kinnock. Even this weekend, that ghost resurfaced as Obama and Biden were jointly interviewed on CBS News 60 Minutes. Ironically, as the Palin story was unfolding, ABC Reporter Steve Kroft reminded Biden of the plagarism episode and noted today's GOP was planning a campaign ad about it.
"I made a mistake 20, 21, 22 years ago," Biden told ABC. "I was arrogant. I didn't think I had to prepare. I showed up at the debate and I failed to quote somebody. A guy named Neil Kinnock. And I just ask people and everyone else, look at the last 20 years of my career since that allegation occurred."
A closer analogy would the fate of Thomas Eagleton, who for 18 days in 1972 was the vice presidential running mate of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. Eagleton, who died in March 2007, at the time was a 42-year-old Democratic Senator from Missouri. He failed to tell the McGovern campaign's vice presidential selection team that he had been treated for depression, including electroshock therapy.
His New York Times obituary describes what transpired next.
"On July 13, 1972, Frank Mankiewicz, a top McGovern aide, asked Mr. Eagleton if there was anything in his background that might embarrass the campaign.
Mr. Eagleton said there was not. He did not tell Mr. Mankiewicz that he had been hospitalized three times for depression and that his treatment twice involved electroshock therapy.
But rumors began circulating among politicians and journalists. Mr. Eagleton held a news conference on July 25 in Custer, S.D., where he had just briefed the vacationing Mr. McGovern over breakfast. Mr. Eagleton told reporters that he had been treated for "nervous exhaustion." But in response to questions, he acknowledged that the treatment had included psychiatric counseling and electric shocks.
That day Mr. McGovern said, "I think Tom Eagleton is fully qualified in mind, body and spirit to be the vice president of the United States and, if necessary, to take on the presidency on a moment's notice." As objections to Mr. Eagleton mounted, Mr. McGovern insisted that he was "1,000 percent for Tom Eagleton."
But the pressure from party leaders, campaign contributors and members of Mr. McGovern's own staff was unrelenting. On July 31, the candidates met again, this time in Washington, and Mr. McGovern forced Mr. Eagleton to withdraw. He stepped down after 18 days as the nominee, saying he had done so for the sake of "party unity."
Are the Palin pregnancies a more private matter than Eagleton's shock therapy?
Today, the national media and McCain campaign are focused on not distracting the nation's attention from Hurricane Gustav, as it bears down on the Gulf Coast and tests New Orleans' refurbished levies and storm fortifications. But once those high waters subside, the McCain campaign will be forced to answer some questions.
The stakes here are deeper than the usual sniping in presidential campaigns, which will no doubt revisit Palin's record as governor -- including allegations of abusing her office to take revenge on her ex-brother-in-law in a messy divorce. The question is not whether she made right and noble choices to protect her daughter, but if her repeated public statements were lies, suggesting a temperament unfit for high office.
If that is the case, McCain will have shown the nation that his hasty judgment in selecting Palin reveals another, more serious character flaw: a recklessness with decision-making. Proving that he is a maverick Republican is not the same as being presidential.
In politics, the truth always comes out. Tom Eagleton's ghost is stirring.