When should a family be off-limits for a politician?
Posted by silentarchimedes on September 4, 2008
This whole public vetting of Sarah Palin has lead to a discussion on whether a family should be off-limits to the media and public in determining if she is a good candidate for the vice presidency. The opinions range from completely off-limits to everything should be on the table as public figures to in-betweens like only if it affects her as a candidate. However, the in-betweens are the ones that are subjective and difficult to determine. To determines what is allowed or not? Are children allowed? At what age are they allowed?
History has shown us that just because you are related to someone does not mean your personalities and actions are related to each other. Take the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, for example. It was his brother, David, who turned in his own brother, albeit reluctantly. Although their similar genetics led them to have strong intellectual careers (David went to Columbia University and Ted went to Harvard and had a PhD from UMich), their personalities and reactions to society (David was a praciticing Buddhist and a vegetarian while Ted was, well, the Unabomber) were night and day.
However, history has also shown that blood relationships can lead to very very similar careers and lives. As a matter of fact, this has been very apparent in the presidential history of the United States. John Adams, second president, is the father of John Qunicy Adams, sixth president. And, we can’t forget the George Bushes and their similar presidencies. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president, were fifth cousins, but that relationship is too far removed to include here.
What history has shown us is inconclusive. What we need to do is look at a more recent phenomenon of public figures and families, Hollywood. As we know, the paparazzi is incessantly looking for any skeletons in the closet of public figures. Families are completely game. One very recent example is the revelation that Jamie Lynn Spears, the 16 year old younger sister of Britney Spears, was pregnant. On first glance, one can say that her pregnancy is her own life and has nothing to do with Britney Spears’ life. However, when you couple the pregnancy with Britney’s own two children at a young age, and Britney’s dramaticfall from fame, one can’t help but notice that Britney must have had a strong influence on Jamie Lynn, whether directly or indirectly. Also, one can’t help conclude that the parents either did a horrible job raising them or they lost control of them.
What the paparazzi has taught us is that society is infatuated with the personal lives of public figures. The death of Princess Diana is a prime example of the paparazzi going to far. However, the problem with the paparazzi is that the public figures they are usually focused on are actors and actresses, most of whom are morally liberal to begin with, and have no bearing on the personal lives of the general public.
However, when it comes to politicians, I believe it’s fair to investigate the skeletons in their closets, even if it means the immediate family members’ closets. The reason is because they represent society. They make the decisions that influence our daily lives and the lives of future generations. Politicians already have stereotypes of corruption and abuses of power. It is premature to say that family is off-limits. Obviously, if a major politician’s daughter committed murder, society should know and it should have an impact on how we view the character and background of the politician. However, if a politician’s daughter becomes pregnant at age 17, is that legitimate news? Should this have an impact on how we judge the politician’s character? To me, that is up for the public to decide. I do not believe it is the media’s job to determine that. They report the news. In other words, don’t shoot the messengers. All I know is if I had a daughter that became pregnant at 17, I would be judged unfavorably by my peers. I also know that in my old high school, students that became pregnant were also looked upon very unfavorably. The pregnancy is another piece in the puzzle of how I judge a politician. Obviously, if the daughter received a D in her Biology class, I would consider that too inconsequential to the character of the politician. But a teen pregnancy?
What I find hypocritical about the whole Palin situation with the teen pregnancy and Down Syndrome baby is the parading of the kids on stage at the end of her speech at the convention last night. Or the video they showed of the 7-year old daughter on their website. If family is off-limits then they too should leave the family out of it. If they decide to introduce the family to the public, then they too become public figures, and are thus game.
This is what makes politics so frustrating. Even though Obama and Biden publicly say that family is off-limits, I’m sure internally they are jumping for joy at the skeletons coming out of the Palin family closet. Both sides appear hypocritical at the expense of trying to take the higher ground.
In this day and age of the internet and 24-hour media, nothing is off-limits. Whether right or wrong, this is what both parties want. The flow of information, either good or bad, is deemed being one of the most basic democratic values. Otherwise, our freedom of speech would be impinged. Otherwise, pornography on the internet would be illegal. Otherwise, we would become a big brother state like China or Russia where information is monitored and limited. Is this what we want? The past 8 years has seen the passing of the Patriot Act, which has increased big brotherhood in America. In the end, it is up to each and every individual to decide what to believe and what to read. For example, the US government can make recommendations, such as film ratings, but it is up to the parents and children to decide what they do with that information.