Senator Obama was right to say that discussions of Sarah Palin’s family must be off limits. But an examination of Mrs Palin’s character and record cannot be similarly a no go area – indeed it is incumbent on all commentators and everyone in the media to analyse as closely as possible what we know about this Vice Presidential candidate. We have little to go on other than her public face as a politician in Alaska and her declared position on issues – including social issues. Mrs Palin is a social conservative – pro life and clearly linked with the family values/religious right wing of the Republican Party. But if the holding of these views is to be seen as anything other than hard-nosed, elector friendly pragmatism we are entitled to test Mrs Palin not just in respect of their validity but also in respect of how she has applied them in her own life. This is where a discussion of Mrs Palin the mother, as well as Mrs Palin the ideologue is legitimate.

Mrs Palin apparently believes that schools should not have sex education on their curricula. Unless she thinks that pubescent children should have no sex education at all then she presumably places the responsibility in the hands of the parents – if it is not to be in the hands of the teachers. So as her daughter Bristol reached sexual maturity did Mrs Palin explain to her both the joys and the risks of an active sex life? Did she, perhaps from her own experience, explain how sex can be joyful and liberating and that, of course, it is perfectly normal for any sexually mature adult to take part in it – or desire to? At the same time did she point out that that to indulge in sex wilfully without any thought of the consequences can be damaging both to health and to the indisputable need for all children to be planned children and wanted children?

I do not know the answer to the questions in the previous paragraph and in some respects it is impertinent to ask them. But when a 17 year-old unmarried girl becomes pregnant perhaps out of a sense of rebellion and perhaps out of ignorance it is natural to question the role of the parents. Did they not openly discuss with their daughter the fact that whilst to have sexual yearnings is perfectly normal as the hormonal charge gathers momentum that simply to give in to those cravings without any thought for the consequences is irresponsible? Did Bristol not feel that she could go to her mother and explain that she was in a relationship and that she wanted to consummate it but that she was mindful of the need not to do this without thought? Or was she so afraid of the moral stance of her mother on all things that she knew that she would be told to read a few verses of the Bible rather than being given the address of a local family planning adviser – and that this was the last advice that she needed.

These are legitimate questions and that it is fair to pose them. It may well be, of course, that as is sometimes the case in the most open and caring families that a child ignores advice and without thought for the consequences does her own thing – much to the parents’ distress. We have all known kids from the very best of homes who have gone off the rails despite receiving all the love and care and help they could.If that is the case Mrs Plain would have our sympathy.

 The point about Mrs Palin is that she has chosen to involve her family in politics – otherwise why have them in the spotlight with John McCain at the Convention? If you want your family to enhance your personal brand you must expect that having introduced your role as a mother into the equation people will feel that it is legitimate to explore that role in the open. The evidence, until contradicted, is that Mrs Palin has failed in her duty to ensure that her daughter understands the risks of unprotected sexual intercourse. Or if she has taken steps to ensure that her daughter does have this understanding then she has been singularly unpersuasive in getting her daughter’s behaviour to match that advice. Either way it is a failure of character – and it is quite right to discuss it openly.

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