Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bristol Stomp: Palin Pregnancy Showcases Public Flaws of ‘Reagan Parenting’

I did not see Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech live last night. But from excerpts on NPR this morning and the AP transcript posted on MSNBC, she seems to have a way with words.

Well, some words, anyway. She’s still reticent to address the mess she and husband Todd have made of their family life—or why their mess is a telling indictment of the conservative values she’d impose on the rest of us.

Occasionally her words are clever. Being mayor of Wasilla, her Alaska hometown is, she says, sort of like being “a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” Yet she’s more than a little vague about what those responsibilities were or how they equip her to step in as president, should the need arise. In fact it was a $68,000 per year job, supervising 53 municipal employees, for a population of 5,469 in 2000, with an annual budget that rose from $4 to $6 million in her six years as major.

Sometimes her words are yawningly predictable: Obama will just tax-and-spend, because that’s what Democrats always do. But Palin can summon a few specifics.

She touts ethics reforms she got enacted into Alaska’s laws. But she has yet to account for her role in firing a state official who declined to fire a state trooper after her sister divorced him. (Court filings alleging the trooper abused the sister and threatened Palin’s husband may have justified Sarah’s concern; but did her tactics forecast more abuse of federal executive power by Republicans who have made it a way of life for eight years?)

As other emblems of achievement, she points to selling the governor’s private jet, driving herself to work, vetoing wasteful spending, suspending the state’s fuel tax, and promoting construction of a $40 billion natural gas pipeline.

She also claims that her supervision of the Alaska National Guard gives her both foreign-policy and military-command experience, yet when CNN pressed McCain spokesmen for an example of accomplishments in those roles, they were unable to provide specifics for either.

Unfortunately, the silence from Palin is deafening when it comes to addressing how the conservative values she prizes have wreaked havoc in the life of her own family.

The values I have in mind can be summed up in two words: “Reagan parenting.”

Reagan parenting is characterized by two specific negatives: (1) both parents working and absent from home for significant periods of time, so that they really don’t know what support and guidance their children are getting, largely from others; (2) and reducing sex education to abstinence education—which, in addition to its obvious impact on the Palin family, has caused the teen birth rate, reduced by nearly 1/3 since the early 1990s, to now be on the rise for the first time in 15 years.

Why don’t Palin and McCain want the media to discuss the pregnancy of her daughter, Bristol? Of course it’s embarrassing that Bristol and the baby’s father are unmarried and barely legal. But the Palins try to put lipstick on that pig by focusing attention on conservative values the teens have discovered after forgetting the one prohibiting sex before marriage: now they plan to get married, have the baby and care for it with all the teenage skill and dedication they can muster.

Yet the real reason Palin and McCain don’t want the media and the public focusing on Bristol’s predicament is that it portrays Reagan parenting for what it is: yet another conservative theory that has been a failure in practice.

It is important for us to discuss the Palin family’s private experience with Bristol publicly, because it shows very persuasively how thoroughly Reagan parenting has failed and how urgently we need to replace it with something that works.

The Republicans seem to have little interest in enabling parents to spend more time with their children or in encouraging educators to teach teens how to handle sex and reproductive options responsibly. The electorate needs to reward candidates who understand how pressing those needs are and who show courage enough to address them.

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