Monday, February 15, 2010

Does Sarah Palin Embody Republican Values?

An unfortunate mark of our political time is the narrowing of "social issues" to mean "issues involving sex" and the corollary that having the proper attitudes on these issues is equivalent to having good values. By these standards, Sarah Palin is a fine Republican. She's anti-abortion, a supporter of abstinence-only sex education, an opponent of gay marriage. The trouble is that good values extend far beyond one's attitudes toward government regulation of sexual behavior, and that these attitudes seem to be a poor predictor of broader values.

I sometimes put on libertarian airs, but at heart, I'm a social conservative. I think that there are certain activities and character traits that mark a good life, and that the government, insofar as it is able, ought to exemplify and encourage these traits among its citizens. I arrive at these traits by induction, by considering the people I admire most and what it is I admire about them. And when I consider these people, I find that their sexual behavior and attitudes are only a small component of their characters. The people that I admire tell the truth, even when it is unpleasant. They honor their commitments, even when they obligate themselves to stress and boredom. They have an insatiable curiosity. They are humble, and they are willing to admit mistakes and to ask forgiveness of those they have wronged. They care for those who are closest to them.

And by this measure, I believe that Sarah Palin fares poorly. She has misrepresented her accomplishments as governor of Alaska, most notably in suggesting that her response to the "bridge to nowhere" was a bold stance against, rather than an indulgence in, government earmarks. She resigned her office as governor of Alaska with nearly half a term remaining in order to expedite what is becoming a perpetual presidential campaign. She has shown unapologetic ignorance in debates, interviews and speeches. She has displayed extreme scorn for the McCain campaign staff, blaming them for their 2008 loss, and maintains a reputation for being extremely vindictive. And she has repeatedly shoved her children into the public's eye, consenting to interviews, video shoots and magazine covers with her young daughters, outfitted and posed to sexualize her image, and then denounced her family's lack of privacy and her own sexualization.

These are difficult values and high standards, and in all probability, no politician would measure very well against them. We choose politicians from a body of fallen people, but we necessarily judge people to be more or less fit for public service based on their ideas, their accomplishments and their characters. My audience here is primarily the Christian conservatives who have been so eager to claim Sarah Palin as one of their own. The values that I describe here are your values. Are they Sarah Palin's?

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