Bristol becomes first identifiable victim of US election


Sarah Palin may be a seductive prospect and many men may fancy her but that doesn't make her any less scary, writes Anne Marie Hourihane

Really there is nothing more interesting than other people's sex lives. We may as well admit it. Presumably the fascination stems from the fact our own sex lives are circumscribed by social taboos and devastated by respectability. And this makes Miss Marples of us all, twitching our net curtains and muttering happily about people who are At It Like Knives.

Other people's sex lives are more interesting to us than - oh, anything else really. More interesting than a political candidate's policies, her religion, her views on foreign wars. And so we come to Bristol Palin (17), the first identifiable victim of the US presidential election - because other people's sex lives are such a nice distraction. And smart politicians know this.

This is why we had a teenage couple on the platform of the Republican convention in St Paul, Minnesota, holding hands until their knuckles whitened, as Sarah Palin rescued John McCain's campaign with a dazzling solo run. Poor Bristol Palin. Poor Levi Johnston, (18). Until now Levi was best known for being a winger on their high school ice hockey team. Now he's going to be married in the full glare of our global prurience. If Levi was a Catholic, which presumably he isn't, he would have grounds for a future annulment, because free will doesn't seem to be a startling feature of the forthcoming nuptials. It is the survival of his putative mother-in-law that is the important thing.

And survive she will. At the Republican convention the world's fascination with teenage sexuality distracted from interesting facts about Sarah Palin. Like the interesting fact that she thinks that America's invasion of Iraq is a mission from God.

Just as snobbery is the most reprehensible sin of the liberals, so self-serving paranoia is the most reprehensible sin of the conservatives. It's really time that both camps grew up. In this newspaper last week both Kathryn Holmquist and Breda O'Brien recorded and anticipated liberal feminist opposition to Sarah Palin, and both relished the prospect that she was a shot across liberal feminist bows.

What bows, baby? The feminist ship sailed years ago, and now we are confined to a small fleet of light aircraft from which we sometimes conduct the odd lightning raid on lunacy. Because, strange to say, some liberal feminists are living, not in academia or on the higher rungs of the executive ladder where their hobbies are spoiling everybody else's fun, but in the real world where they queue in the supermarket, clean their own toilets and sit in traffic jams just like everyone else. Liberal feminists have had to learn that, as John McCain's spokesman Steve Schmidt put it as news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy broke, "Life happens".

And it is because life happens that I welcome Sarah Palin. I want more women in public life. A long time ago British feminists got themselves into a stew about Margaret Thatcher, at one point even denying that she was a woman, on the grounds that her policies were anti-female. That was bonkers.

However, I refuse to welcome Sarah Palin as some sort of backwoods Messiah. Just because you get up at 4am to take your children to hockey practice does not mean that you are a nice person (in my view it makes you maniac, but we'll move on). Just because you have five children doesn't make you a responsible politician. Just because you're from a small town doesn't make you a good leader for the Free World. To argue otherwise seems patronising in the extreme.

I don't object to Sarah Palin's anti-abortion views; how could I when I live in a country where they are sincerely shared by so many of my neighbours? I don't particularly mind that she shoots moose. I can't even condemn her support for the dig-it-up-and-drill attitude to the wilderness of Alaska; I suspect that a lot of our gung-ho environmentalism is the new shelter for the people-hating puritanism that has destroyed so much of the liberal, left-wing cause.

But I sure as hell object to her views on Iraq, even though, unlike many of her predecessors in war-mongering, Sarah Palin has actually provided the American forces there with a member of her own family as a soldier. In politics, sincerity doesn't make you right, it just makes you unusual. I certainly object to her support for changes in the teaching of evolution, and to her flirtation with removing books from library shelves. (Not everyone in Alaska is a Sarah Palin conservative; the county librarian involved in this dispute with Palin resigned. Palin's step-mother ran in a local election on a pro-choice ticket. Of course neither of these women is identified as a liberal feminist by Palin's supporters.)

And I find it extraordinary that so many genuine Christians, particularly Protestants, whose culture of individual conscience was the bedrock of so much liberal thought, sit back and let her wrap her war-mongering and social hatreds in the Christian banner.

Sarah Palin is a seductive prospect. But her lipstick, her Blackberry, her breast pump and even the fact that every male with a television fancies her, does not alter the fact that she is scary. Nor does the fact that her young daughter is pregnant. Sometimes the accessories do not constitute the outfit.