Thursday, July 15, 2010

WHOOMP! There it is!

Likely 2012 Republican candidate and presumptive nominee Sarah Palin has thrust her fifth child, Trig, who has Down Syndrome, into the national spotlight, in order to win votes by appearing empathetic. Much bandwidth and paper have been expended debating whether or not Palin actually gave birth to Trig (I tend to think that she did).

In case you don't know Palin's story -- as then governor of Alaska, Palin travelled to Texas while in her eighth month of pregnancy (at age 44 with a special needs baby growing inside her) to deliver a speech to a convention. She reports in her book that she woke up that morning leaking amniotic fluid and feeling contractions, yet she soldiered on and delivered her speech ("big laughs, more contractions), travelled back to the hotel, then to the airport. At that point she boarded and apparently comfortably sat in her seat on two transcontinental flights (never once letting a single flight attendant know that she was pregnant and in labor) to get to Anchorage, then got in a car and drove more than an hour to the local hospital near Wasilla, which was not equipped to handle the birth of a special needs baby who might need intensive care.

Now, reporters right and left (and not a few bloggers) have wondered why she made these choices to travel across North America while in labor and with broken water, at age 44 with a Down Syndrome baby (and even to travel to Texas in the first place). Reporters have looked at pictures of Palin during earlier pregnancies and wondered how she could not have been visibly showing a baby bump. They have wondered why she has adamantly refused to put the rumors and speculation to rest by providing a copy of Trig's birth certificate showing her to be his mother. They have wondered if it's true that Palin refers to Trig as her "retarded baby" while she claims to be a "mama grizzly" defending her child at all costs. Blogger Dave Weigel says that none of this stuff matters at all, which has prompted a huge debate over at The Daily Dish.

Well, today a Sullivan reader hits the nail on the head with why all of this stuff actually matters (reader's italics):

The fundamental problem with the story isn't that it's physically improbable, though. It isn't even that it may not be true. It's that either way, it does more to discredit her than help her. It's possible that somehow, someway, she managed to leak amniotic fluid and undergo contractions with enough stealth that the assembled convention-goers and later airline staff did not cotton on that the professedly pregnant governor was in fact giving birth to a high-risk baby. If it's true, though, she was doing herself no favors. It makes no sense to act the way she did if she was in labor, none whatsoever. Does acting stupidly automatically mean the story's false? No. But it does mean she put herself and her unborn child in inexcusable risk, in a situation that demanded that critical decisions be made quickly and calmly.

Was she deliberately choosing to put her unborn child in danger? Was she simply not thinking? Either way, her decisions, as she related them, make her look like a poor person to have making important decisions in a high-stakes environment. If she was indeed so careless and thoughtless with the safety of her own baby, how can we, the voters, believe that she would be any more cautious with the nation?

Exactly. When every single health professional with even a passing interest in obstetrics would say that her travelling during her eighth month AT AGE 44, and particularly while in labor, and forgoing all manner of medical attention until she got back to Wasilla, all while carrying a special needs child, was a fucking insane thing to do. If this is an example of her judgment during a critical moment, how are we to judge her temperament as leader of the free world?

Of course, her acolytes will twist this to mean that she would do anything and suffer anything to protect her family, so we should expect the same level of commitment and sacrifice from her as president. But that makes no sense: a president can and should be as committed and dedicated as that without resorting to life-threatening recklessness.

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