As Gov Sarah Palin is getting an actual fair shake in a NY Times piece on how she handles governing and motherhood (she seems to do it with aplomb), the Democrats have to deal with quotes like this from Gov. Palin, one which illustrates how far from reality are the media-caricatures of longstanding:
She assured [her staff] she would not take much time off: she had returned to work the day after giving birth to Piper. “To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time,” she said, “I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.”
I’d like to address an angry email I’ve received from a person flinging the word “hypocrite” around. This person – apparently responding to this, brought up a long-ago piece I’d written on the value of virginity (I wrote about it again – from a very different perspective – last Lent), and, opined that I could not value virginity and then applaud Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy without being a “total hypocrite and phony,” like every other conservative in the world, etc, etc.
Listen: chastity is the ideal; of course it is the ideal, and it is an achievable one, but only if it is understood as valuable, to start with. If you believe – as I do – that a hymen is more than a meaningless membrane, but part of a plan, one that reflects the blood-covenant made between God and the Jews, and between Christ and the whole world, then you see value there, and you try to raise your children to understand it, and to strive for the ideal.
But an ideal is an ideal. It the “best” way; that doesn’t mean that anyone who fails the ideal is a bad person. It means they’re human and in need of mercy – like everyone else.
Mercy is the key, here. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees complained to Jesus that his apostles were picking off grains of wheat and eating them. Jesus said, “If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy above sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men.”
People of faith know that nothing in scripture is meaningless, and so we take that lesson to heart, and – aware that we are all broken and imperfect – we strive to be mercy for each other. If you look at the Sisters of Life, or the Good Counsel program, or countless programs in countless churches, you see not shrieking judgment against single mothers; no one is calling anyone a name; you see the helping hand and encouragement.
You don’t hear about it, but this goes on all the time, in every diocese in every small town and big city; young women get pregnant, or women in abusive situations find themselves pregnant, and they seek help, and they are given as much help as may be found. The help is rendered for love of God, and for love of community and each other. It is not “sisterhood.” It is “personhood.” And it has nothing at all in common with the caricature of conservative women and men that has been promulgated in media for the past three decades, a caricature rendered from the most extreme and objectionable sorts of conservative movements, and not from the common and ordinary folk, who are less easy to hate.
“Tolerance” and “compassion” are good things, if they mean something. But “tolerance” really means “put up with” and “compassion” can sometimes be sullied by condescension or pity. “Mercy” is different. “Mercy” recognizes that we are all in this broken world, together, all in need of healing and help, somewhere.
I don’t applaud Miss Palin’s pregnancy; I do applaud her willingness to let the child live, and to take adult responsibility for engaging in adult actions. There is no fairytale before her. Raising kids is hard, and it’s tougher when you’re a very young couple. But it has been done, and easy abortions do not seem to have made for stronger, better marriages down the road. Marriage is hard work. Parenting is hard work. The kids seem to have a large support network; life will go on, and do what it does.
When you let a baby live, you bring new love into the world, love that has never existed before, and that’s worth taking a moment to appreciate.
The love between [mother and newborn] didn’t exist in the world before her birth. Now, the parents are awestruck with it, they’ve discovered something greater than themselves in this Love – it is a Love so complete, so unconditional and all-encompassing, that they would die for it.
If God is love, here is God, renewed constantly through this Love – Ever Ancient, Ever-new.
One looks at this in wonder and in deep humility.
Those of us who support Gov. Palin and her husband’s decision to welcome into the world and their family a child many would consider unlovable and expendable, understand that in saying “yes” to the child, they have said “yes” to love, and that gives God (and all of us) another opening, another chance to teach and touch and heal and be healed. Supporting the Governor’s teenage daughter in her pregnancy is more of the same. It is not hypocritical praise or applause. It is “kid, you’re in for a hard lesson. We honor you for being willing to learn it, and for being brave enough to love, instead of giving in to fear, and running from it.”
You see, all of you people howling at the Palins and at those of us in the same tribe, you only know a caricature, you know a template that is extremely outdated; you cannot believe that a conservative woman can be a true feminist; a woman-in-full, as completely at ease with the power of her womanhood, as with her distinctly feminine genius. You cannot believe that a young pregnant woman is not being denigrated, but lifted up. It does not fit a narrative you have bought into for years.
You have never really known us. And that is partly our fault; we have not always been comprehensible or appealing communicators of our ideals and our mercies.
Mercy is not difficult. It is the great leveler, actually. When a heart is at least partially attuned to mercy, even slightly open to it, then the more generous impulses are allowed out. You can see it, occasionally, even in the hot-blooded political blogosphere, a desire to be just, to have mercy and write the fair, thoughtful line. Mercy and Justice sort of go hand-in-hand.
But of course, things move so fast; we don’t ponder any of this for long – we get a wisp, an insight, and we pause for a moment. Then someone says something stupid or unfair, and we’re all off to the races again.
We should be grateful to the Palin family. They are allowing us to ponder and to wonder at everything we all thought we always knew. That’s a good thing, right? Broadening. Enlightening.
UPDATE: What timing. At Newsweek Anna Quindlen is working furiously off the only template she knows (or probably ever wants to know). We’re so “hypocritical and expedient.” Sigh.
UPDATE II: Slate: Gives Joe Biden advice for beating Palin in debate, so let’s give some to Palin: Ms. Palin, be aware that Biden is taking credit for the surge in Iraq and be ready for his 13 minute answers!
Tammy Bruce: A feminist for Palin
WaPo: Looking at Palin’s Pipeline Savvy
LGF: Sarah Palin and Creationism
Byron York on on Palin positions
Gay Patriot: The Diversity of the Right
Palin and what she learned playing girls basketball in the 1970′s
Neo-neocon: It’s the class wars, stupid!
Alaskan Press: On Palin’s leadership
Protein Wisdom: The Press ain’t Free
Ace: Palin’s strange power over journalists (Language Warning)
Maxed Out Mama: the other side of kids getting into trouble.