Politics should not be a family affair

Immediately following Sen. John McCain’s announcement of his surprise vice-presidential pick of the largely unknown Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, her personal life blew up. Countless blog posts and cable news network stories threw details of her marriage, her children, and her college years into the glaring spotlight. Palin did her best to protect herself and the Republican ticket from the little things that suddenly seemed to matter. She was a party girl who bounced around four different colleges in six years. She married her husband at the age of 24, and gave birth eight months later. She learned, through genetic testing, that the child she was carrying had Down syndrome, yet refused an abortion. But perhaps bigger than all other Palin family stories, her 17-year-old, unmarried daughter is pregnant. McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, graciously told reporters that his opponents’ families were strictly “off-limits.” In fact, Obama himself was born to an unwed teenage mother. But even that didn’t stop the spotlight, as it was thrust onto the pregnant Bristol Palin, a senior in high school, and her hockey-player boyfriend. Pictures popped up all over the Internet of Bristol, or girls who looked a lot like her, drinking vodka at raucous high school parties, jumping into her boyfriend’s arms, and modeling suggestive poses. The boyfriend’s MySpace page was thrown around the world, its expletive-laced “about me” section (“I’m a f—in’ redneck…”) repeated and mocked for everyone to see. It was clearly a PR disaster. But why was this so important? Sarah Palin wasn’t applying for a cleanest-family award. She didn’t ever boast that her family was problem-free. As high school students, we especially know that parents are often near-powerless to stop their kids. Yes, Gov. Palin mistakenly allowed young Bristol to get carried away and end up pregnant. But that doesn’t change how she does her job. We should be focusing on whether she has the experience, the judgment, or the diplomatic skills to be vice-president or president, instead of the scandalous, awkward details of her family’s problems and personal past. The same goes for Obama; just because he has Muslim relatives does not make him a Muslim (and even that should not change his positions). History has shown that personal issues do not affect a president’s (or other important leader’s) ability to do his job. One big example was Bill Clinton, who admitted having an affair with an intern, nearly escaped impeachment, and continued to finish out arguably one of the best presidential terms in recent history. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and hailed as one of America’s most important forefathers, fathered the child of one of his slave women, and still remains the face of the nickel and the two-dollar bill. This pattern has been echoed even in leaders who were eventually removed from their offices. The infamous Idaho Sen. Larry Craig had an approval rating of 60% among his constituents before it was revealed he had been arrested in a airport men’s bathroom sting. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey both were controversial because of their performance as governors before they were both forced to resign for hiring call girls and for being gay, respectively. With this knowledge, we should not base our judgment of Gov. Palin, or any other politician, on how she or he performs as a parent, a spouse, or anything other than as a vice president. We must elect the people best suited to lead our nation, and if we base it on frivolous issues, we may make the wrong choices.