The McCain campaign insists that this is a private matter, and Barack Obama, prudently I am sure, agrees with that--and Obama has emphasized the need to be particularly sensitive about dragging children into the electoral arena. And yet, such an appeal to privacy, coming from the Republican camp, reeks of hypocrisy, especially since the American right has so many opinions on such issues as abortion, birth control, sex education, sexual preference, and a whole host of other issues related to "family values." To put it plainly: Abortion foes like Sarah Palin don't think that decisions about pregnancies are a private matter between a woman, her partner, and her doctor; they think that the government should make the rules about what choices a woman in that situation should have.
It thus seems to me relevant to ask certain questions about Bristol's pregnancy, even if one does not have an automatic "right" to the answers. Here are some things I would like to know:
1. Why did Bristol become pregnant? Did she want to get pregnant? What did she know about birth control? Was she using birth control when she slept with her boyfriend? If not, why not? What is the attitude of her parents about birth control? Would they have allowed Bristol to obtain birth control if she wanted it? What is their attitude about sex before marriage?
2. Is her boyfriend, who has been referred to as Levi in the media, really the father of her child?
3. Why is Bristol going to marry Levi? Was she planning to marry him before her mother was chosen as the Republican VP candidate? Does Bristol really want to keep the baby? Has she been given any choice? Does she want to marry Levi? Does he want to marry her? What do Levi's parents think about the whole thing?
4. Why do Bristol's parents think it a good idea for their daughter to be saddled with the responsibility of a child and marriage at the age of 17? What reason do they have to think that such a marriage will last? Are Bristol and Levi in love with each other? Did they discuss getting married before she got pregnant? Did they discuss getting married before Sarah Palin was picked as McCain's running mate?
The bottom line here, for me at least, is how much choice Bristol has been given and how much she is under pressure, for familial and political reasons. If she is under any pressure to do something she does not want to do, that is an abomination, and voters have a right to know exactly what kind of pressure she might be subjected to. There, I've said it: Voters have a right to know. Those who would inflict their own notions about "family values" on others, and who would take away the right of all women to choose whether to bear children or not, waive their rights to privacy once they run for public office.
Photo: Bristol Palin with her brother Trig/Reuters
Sarah Update: This hasty choice is beginning to backfire badly on McCain. The New York Times is on the job, and other media will be hard on its heels; I wouldn't discount the possibility that Palin will pull out in the coming days. The Times article makes clear that McCain didn't pick who he really wanted for the job. Country first? And does McCain really want a running mate who is a global warming skeptic? For some nicely nuanced, sophisticated analysis of the fallout from the Palin pick, and Republican strategies for dealing with it, nobody does it better than the always interesting Jay Rosen at PressThink.
Baby Update: On The Huffington Post, two very different views on the press treatment of the Bristol Palin affair, one from a man and one from a woman. But Tim Rutten provides a good perspective, with which I agree, in the Los Angeles Times. As the deck of his piece puts it: "She, her husband and daughter got to make private decisions privately. But her public views would deny that same right to other Americans."
Arrests in St. Paul: Please be sure to keep yourself informed about the arrests of political activists at the Republican convention, and the outrageous, completely unjustified arrest of "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman.