There were basically two things known about Sarah Palin when her name was announced on Aug. 29 and the mediasphere began to shudder and pulsate: She was a recently elected governor and the mother of five children including a handicapped infant. The scorn from the mainstream press and the left-leaning blog world was both intense and instantaneous. Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic immediately began circulating rumors that Trig was not the governor’s baby — that she had engaged in a huge charade to cover up her teen daughter’s illegitimate child. The New York Times reported on the front page that Palin had been a member of the Alaska Independence Party. Eleanor Clift of Newsweek described the reaction of most newsrooms to Palin’s elevation as “literally laughter.” US Weekly rushed out a cover story picturing Palin holding her baby son with the headline “Babies, Lies, & Scandal.”
And that was just the throat-clearing phase. NBC’s Brian Williams wondered whether she could discharge her responsibilities with all those kids. Sally Quinn of the Washington Post asked, “Will she put her country first, or will she put her family first?” Mort Kondracke called her a “wacko right-winger.”
Now it hardly needs mentioning that Brian Williams and company would sew their own lips closed before ever uttering such heresy about a liberal woman candidate. Nor would it even occur to them to question any male candidate’s fitness because of the number of children he had.
How do the media poobahs explain it? They say (and to her credit, Sally Quinn has apologized for her comments) that it was Palin’s inexperience that prompted their contempt. But aren’t these the same people who had just the week before been defending Barack Obama’s thin resume?
Something about Sarah Palin set them off before their own politically correct impulses (“Must Avoid Sexism”) could inhibit them. By the ferocity of the response, you might have thought Palin was a secret member of a polygamous cult or had forced her daughter to give birth after a rape. But no, she was just the mother of five, hunting, fishing, NRA member, and governor.
I wonder if it was that baby.
Sarah Palin is no ordinary pro-lifer. She is an attractive, intelligent, ambitious, successful woman who has actually lived her convictions. Told that the baby she was carrying would be handicapped with Down syndrome, she and her husband made the only decision their consciences would permit — to welcome this child with the same love they would give to any other. That decision is comparatively rare in America. Fully 80 percent of parents who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome in their unborn children elect to abort. But it’s not unusual at all among committed pro-lifers. I have met many in the course of speaking to pro-life audiences. And for every couple that has chosen life for a handicapped child, there are thousands and perhaps millions more who have abjured prenatal testing because under no circumstances would they abort their children. I cannot count the times I’ve amazed pro-choice people with the news that there are even waiting lists of couples who stand ready to adopt Down syndrome babies.
The example of people living their principles by embarking on the undeniably difficult path of raising a handicapped child is a hard one to dismiss. In fact, it’s hard not to admire. Don’t most of us, deep down, really think that the most humane and honorable thing is to treat all life as sacred? Even if you are not religious or have no belief in God — doesn’t it appeal to an enlightened humanism to give support and love to the handicapped? In fact, most pro-choice people probably treat the handicapped with terrific compassion and care. They doubtless support civil rights legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, additional school spending, and generous Social Security benefits. They’d be the first to hold the door for someone in a wheelchair, and they’d be friendly toward anyone with obvious mental retardation.
But for themselves, they would abort. And there stands Sarah, Trig Palin in her arms, a beautiful ambassador for the path of humility, duty, honor, and grace. It’s no wonder she was in their crosshairs from the get go.
– Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.