Obama's perfect pitch on Palin

The nominee was right to warn Democrats against making Bristol Palin an issue. The issue is John McCain's judgment.

Published September 2, 2008 1:45PM (EDT)

Barack Obama has handled the unfolding Sarah Palin story with perfect pitch. While his staff issued a snarky release noting her inexperience on Friday, Obama followed with a congratulatory call to Palin and nice, respectful remarks later in the day. Monday, with the blogosphere exploding with stories about Palin's daughter Bristol's pregnancy -- as well as unconfirmed rumors about Palin's last pregnancy -- Obama issued a classy statement, reported by Tom Schaller in War Room. Obama called Bristol off limits, and noted that he himself was born to a mother who was only 18. (It's worth noting here that some in the right-wing blogosphere have suggested his mother was underage when she conceived him.) Obama is setting an example for Democrats, who need to be careful about how they try to use this story.

Journalists, though, have every right to be asking questions about Palin and her family. I believe Bristol Palin's pregnancy is a story at least partly because the Christian right Sarah Palin belongs to has made teen sexuality a political issue, pushing abstinence-only education and hack science that are bad for the children of the rest of us. But it's also a story because Sarah Palin made it one, releasing a statement confirming her daughter's pregnancy ostensibly to dispel "Internet" rumors that Bristol is the mother of her infant son Trig. That shows questionable judgment on her part.

The entire Palin story also raises questions about McCain's judgment. By most accounts, McCain wanted to choose Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate. What does it mean that he couldn't stand up to Karl Rove and the Christian right and do that? And then, when he decided he couldn't buck the party masters, what does it mean that he rushed into his Palin pick, having spent almost no time with her, and very little time vetting her?

While some Christian conservatives say Bristol Palin's pregnancy and impending marriage make them more enthusiastic about the Palin pick, the rest of the country is less impressed. Obama got a big bounce in every poll this week, and it's as much about the strange Palin story as about Obama's convention speech.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections