Speculating on celebrity baby “bumps” is Hollywood blood sport. Ashlee, Nicole, the much-maligned Jamie Lynn Spears — all were outed by the press before they could even register for Diaper Genies. (A moment of silence for Lisa Marie Presley, who appeared on the cover of a tabloid looking like Wilfred Brimley in a muumuu and subsequently admitted to carrying twins.) Now, thanks to Sarah Palin’s impregnated teenage daughter, Bristol, trashy baby fever has come to the nation’s capital — a place where, until recently, sex had its proper place: under Oval Office desks and in airport-bathroom stalls. But suddenly, babies have become a campaign-trail tool, like George W. Bush’s cowboy act or Bill Clinton’s saxophone. Will it work?
I hope not — it’s a pretty thin MO for someone with as much diplomatic experience as, I don’t know, me. In searching for a vice-president, John McCain sought someone with no knowledge of Iraq, social views befitting a Victorian mixer, and a vagina. I can just picture the crusty Arizona senator sending his minions scampering to find a nice lady politician, someone those pesky women voters could get enthusiastic about after all that Hillary Clinton hullabaloo. If this election is going to be about change, the blustering ex-POW can play with the best of them. “Hey, Obama, you might be black — but I’ve got a girl on my team! And from Alaska, too!” Who cares if she’s a lightweight with as much foreign-policy expertise as Tom Arnold? McCain needed a strident hockey mom as the antidote to Hillary Clinton’s power pantsuits and Obama’s rousing rhetoric. Can you really blame the old geezer?
Too bad Bristol’s fickle fallopian tubes are likely to be her mother’s undoing. You don’t get to campaign as a family-values, pro-woman candidate who also opposes abortion and sex education — because those stances do more for unplanned pregnancy than cheap wine and Barry White. And you can’t exactly sing the praises of abstinence education when your own 17-year-old daughter is a waddling testament to its impotence.
Palin’s handlers would have you believe that she’s just itching to become a grandma. Her office released this statement, which would throw a diabetic into convulsions: “Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby, and even prouder to become grandparents.”
Now those wily Republicans are trying to spin the pregnancy as a boon to the campaign. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford insists that “people are looking for real,” as reported in the New York Times. “Real means blemishes, real means warts, real means real. These family imperfections make people say, ‘That family isn’t so different from my family.’ ” Warts? Blemishes? We’re talking about a 17-year-old pregnant girl here, not McCain’s most recent skin-cancer scare. The GOP spin is transparent: if you criticize Palin and her brood, you must be the one who isn’t progressive. (Not original, either. Remember how, if you criticized George W. Bush, you were also a budding member of Al Qaeda and burned flags in your spare time?)
Condoms? What are condoms?
The problem with young Bristol’s pregnancy isn’t so much her unborn child and its implicit taboo. Sometimes teenagers get pregnant and they don’t mean to. Fine. But not every teenager has a mother who, by adopting such arcane stances on everything from abortion (in case you were wondering, she opposes it — even in cases of rape) to sex-ed (condoms? What are condoms?), has dug her own political grave and managed to set herself up as a hypocrite and a caricature before even having the chance to be lampooned on SNL. Talk about peaking early! The idea is that by banning any talk of sex, you’re also banning sex itself. Perhaps we should expect such a naive worldview from a woman who only got a passport in 2007. But it’s not how the world — or the human body — works. I wonder if poor Bristol even wanted to keep the kid.
Tellingly, at Palin’s RNC speech, Bristol’s pregnancy was the elephant in a room full of elephants (both figurative and literal — did you see the 300-pound dude from Ohio wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a football helmet?). Instead, her Down-syndrome son, Trig, offered more fertile ground for exploitation. She did not, of course, address the rumor that Trig is in fact her daughter Bristol’s first child. But Palin did name-check baby Trig multiple times and, while cameras panned to the listless infant, promised to be a voice for special-needs children in the White House. Limp little Trig was passed around like a prop in a high-school play, while the creepy would-be veep gushed over her secessionist husband (“He’s still my guy!”) and explained to a rapturous audience the difference between hockey moms and pit bulls. (Take note: hockey moms wear lipstick.) Meanwhile, Levi Johnston, Bristol’s beau, licked his lips guiltily from the stands, looking like he’d wandered onto the set of Wedding Crashers. It was a true Brady Bunch moment.