Friday, September 05, 2008

NORTHERN (OVER-)EXPOSURE

Aang!

That’s ‘hello’, in the Aleut Inuit (Eskimo) dialect.

For those folks out there who haven’t heard yet, Senator John McCain has chosen Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate and vice-presidential candidate (thus securing all 3 electoral votes from a state that is rarely even mentioned during a Presidential campaign). Just recently both Palin and McCain have formally accepted their nominations from the GOP, and now are locked as the Republican Party’s hopefuls for the White House. For the past week or so, a ‘scandal’ of sorts has reared its head: Palin, married mother of five children, is now expecting to be a grandmother. Her 17-year old daughter Bristol is currently five months pregnant, and poised to be married to her 18-year-old boyfriend, Levi Johnston. Conservative pundits, delegates and activists have vigorously stressed that this should not be an issue, and that Governor Palin should be applauded for supporting her daughter instead of, you know, kicking her out and calling her a libertine.

Fine. But I find it curious that far-right conservatives, including some of the most hardcore of Evangelicals are seemingly willing to sweep this issue under the rug, instead of using it as a teaching moment to highlight the very real issues that are at stake for Bristol and various other young people and their families.

It may not be fair to ‘bash’ the governor for her daughter’s situation. Still, hopefully this will help highlight some very serious issues that Presidential candidates and other elected officials will look at with empathy and take seriously.

Needless to say—or maybe it needs to be repeated—the GOP for roughly the past 40 years or so has presented itself as the “morals” party, especially as the Christian Coalition and other such groups started cozying up to them.

The daughter has chosen to keep the baby—so for the moment, we can duck the pro-choice/pro-life debate. Some of the other issues may not be considered ‘hot-button’ by political analysts, but they are very real nonetheless. They include, but are not limited to:

“I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: lipstick.”- Sarah Palin at the GOP convention

*Health Care- certainly for Bristol, prenatal care is a priority, but after the child is born, I doubt if her mom's current health care plan covers grandchildren—and so far anyway, a Vice-President’s health-care benefits don’t include grandbabies, either. So, just let the market sort things out? Right now, McCain’s status-quo view on U.S. health care system reforms has got to look a little quaint. Make sure to include dental considerations in the plan—after all, any Hockey Mom (to use the senior Ms. Palin’s self-description) also has to worry about loose teeth from her kid’s bad fall (or brawl).

“So I signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education even better”- Sarah Palin

*Primary Education- Clearly Bristol and her (ahem) fiancĂ©e already know about the birds and the bees. I’m curious to know what McCain’s vision is for bolstering public school education, including (hey now) sex education, which tends to make most social conservatives howl and throw up their hands. To paraphrase an Internet colleague (thanks to Redjack), a sex-education program in school is not there to upend or supercede whatever value system that the parent(s) at home should be already teaching their children. A sex-ed class in middle or high school is not going to make your kid gay or promiscuous. Those who don’t want their kids learning ‘anything’ about sexuality in a school setting are certainly free to home-school them or enroll them in a school that totally bypasses the topic. Still, I can remember my own parochial high school days when some of the girls were known to—eh, let’s skip it.

*Higher Education & Job Development- for Bristol, and certainly for the child's father, Levi-- he's likely going to have to look at continuing his education while holding a job to support his future wife and child-- what prospects are there for an 18 year old in rural/semi-rural Alaska with just a high school diploma? Is Wal-Mart out there yet?

*Child Care-
Generally speaking, child care nowadays isn’t simply a matter of paying a young girl to watch the kid(s) for a flat fee and free access to TV and the fridge. In-home (nanny) care costs money which most working-class types can’t afford—outside, registered and licensed family day care homes and day care centers are also businesses that aren’t cheap, even for people with otherwise solid incomes. Certain individual child care businesses sometimes offer scholarships, but they are hardly far-reaching. Similarly, subsidy assistance from privately-owned agencies is typically finite (that is to say, for a set period of weeks or months) To date, the only federal subsidy program is Head Start, which only covers children aged 0 – 4 (approximately), and depending on the parent(s)’ income status and the length of the waiting list, even that kind of help isn’t guaranteed for new parents. Some more information can be found here: some information can be found here: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/Child-Care99/mi-rpt.htm

Commonly, the only programs for continued (i.e., year-to-year) child care subsidy assistance are administered through a state’s social services/human services department. However, day care subsidy eligibility protocols vary: in the state of Michigan, a parent can choose a relative or other adult to be a paid caregiver, but the hourly pay rate fluctuates from county to county—and only parents whose cases are determined to be eligible for 100% of the subsidy get the full rate- (depending on the county, ranging from $1.66 to $3.10 per hour), for those determined eligible for less than 100% subsidy, the rate is chopped accordingly; for non-relative caregivers, the parent is also required to take out taxes before administering pay to the caregiver, and keep all relevant records for tax filing. Since this subsidy is administered by state governments, they fall into the category of—coughwelfare assistance, the no-no phrase for most GOP political candidates and their supporters. Now let's say if Barack Obama's daughters were teens and one got pregnant, I wonder if the family would avoid being pilloried under the premise that "If he can't keep his daughters in check, how can he lead the country?" Fox News alone would likely have hourly updates; Alan Keyes might even chime in: "See! You should have elected me to the Illinois Senate instead of Obama! I made sure to disown my gay daughter before I ran!"

So do Bristol and her beau deserve to be heckled? No. Does this realistically have any bearing on what would be expected of Sarah Palin as Vice-President? Not really. But is this “scandal” simply something altogether dismissible and irrelevant to public policy? Another Alaskan regional term comes to mind- Bullchitna.