The Sarah Palin Chronicles (and the trouble with rumors)

Yes, I know I made a bad Terminator pun.  Later on I’m gonna see how many new blog posts this morning had that as their headline.

I didn’t watch the entire speech she gave (I never watch convention speeches all the way through–too dishonest, too depressing), but what I saw was unimpressive.  The entire night seemed to be the Republicans piggybacking on the Democrats’ momentum; very little was mentioned in terms of new ideas, most of it was trying to steal the DNC’s thunder.  I saw more invokation of Hillary Clinton than anything else.  I’m not sure if that’s smart, considering how much Hillary is hated in Republican circles (although perhaps not as much as MCain is hated in Republican circles, ironically enough).

Palin said a bunch of things about Obama I already knew.  But her delivery seemed weak.  Barack Obama is very comfortable behind a podium, but Palin seemed terrified.  She stumbled over her lines a lot; she said “durling” instead of “drilling”, hardly a serious faux pas, but it certainly didn’t make her look confident.

But of course the only thing anybody is talking about on the blogosphere right now is her daughter, which it has been confirmed is 17 and pregnant (her boyrfriend is 18, which according to our arcane sex laws legally qualifies as rape).  I honestly wish I didn’t know this information.  It’s simply not my business.  I understand that there is some political footballing with this, since Palin is an arch-conservative who has supported abstinence-only sex ed.  The issue is further muddled since the McCain\Palin campaign has continuously been thrusting their kids in the spotlight:

For two days, the chorus from Republicans on TV news and in the halls of the convention has been resounding: Back off and let the Palin family be. “That’s out of bounds,” said Minnesota’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty. “There’s no need to be intrusive and pry into that.”

Yet Wednesday found the following scenes unfolding:

_Sarah Palin‘s pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old daughter and probable future son-in-law stood in a nationally televised, politically packaged airport receiving line to meet and greet the Republican candidate for president.

_The extremely cute and bubbly Piper Palin, 7, made her debut on her mother’s behalf, appearing in a video on John McCain’s daughter’s blog. “Vote for my mommy and John McCain,” she said, giggling as Meghan McCain grinned.

_Bristol Palin and her 18-year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston, were expected to appear together as part of the GOP political narrative at the convention Wednesday night, according to the young man’s mother.

Huh? The Republican message about the Palin offspring comes across as contradictory: Hey, media, leave those kids alone — so we can use them as we see fit.

Despite all that, none of this makes any difference in the long run.  Does Bristol Palin’s pregnancy really affect the price of gas, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the housing crisis, or anything else that actually matters?

To make things even more confusing (and that’s just what a vicious political campaign season needs, right?), there were rumors swirling around the birth of Palin’s youngest son.  The allegation was that it was really Bristol’s son, and that Palin (who didn’t even tell her staff about the pregnancy) pretended it was hers to avoid political embarassment. 

Since the Palins have now admitted their daughter is pregnant (which is politically embarassing), the idea that they false flagged a previous pregnancy is extremely unlikely.  But what make a rumor like this so frustrating is that you can’t tell, simply on its face, whether it’s true or not.  And a lot of bloggers seem to take moral positions on rumors without knowing what the facts are.  If they like Sarah Palin (or don’t dislike her or are indifferent to her), they tend to abhor the rumors, and condemn people for making such accusations.  On the other hand, if they dislike Palin (or feel that McCain’s VP pick was a cynical ploy and are trying to generate more public resentment along those lines), they suggest the rumor might be true, and that it indicates cynical dishonesty on the part of the Palins.  Which should we “believe”, and how should we feel about all this?

Here’s my take:

About a month ago, John Edwards was accused of cheating on his cancer-ridden wife with one of his campaign people and having a child out of wedlock.  If the rumors had been false, then starting and spreading them would be reckless and irresponsible.  As it turned out, the truth seemed to be somewhere in the middle–Edwards admitted the affair, but denied the paternity.  So Edwards’s himself was reckless and irresponsible, but so were the rumor-mongerers who apparently embellished the story.  Sound familiar?

So often these days, people think they can take one look at a rumor or story or theory, and based purely on their own emotional reaction to the story determine not only whether the story is true or false (you know, “straight from the gut”), but what the political motive is of the people who are talking about it.  Rarely do people make emotional judgements only after they have done factual research on such a story, and rarely do they consider the possibility that anyone who mentions or discusses it is just curious whether the rumor is true or not.  In other words, these are people with no empirical curiosity chastizing those who do.

The real lesson to be learned from these tabloid tales is that they tell us a lot more about the mindset of loquacious bloggers than about the actual candidates or the actual issues.  An obvious lesson to be sure, but unfortunately it bears repeating.


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