Cover Story

Sarah surge

"Sarah surge" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Curtis Menard, mayor of the Mat-Su borough in which Wasilla is located and a longtime friend of Palin's family, recalls that sports came natural to the athletic teenager. But beauty pageants? That took some convincing. "Sarah was pretty cool on the idea at the beginning," he said. Menard's wife Linda talked Palin into competing as a way to learn about poise and quick thinking under the scrutiny of a public interview-and a way to earn scholarships for college.

"She really bloomed," Morgan recalled. "She used to always wear the black horn-rimmed glasses, and she got braces. You know how it is when in junior high you think some girl is really ugly and then when you get to high school, you go, 'Whoa!' That's kind of the way she was."

Todd Palin experienced enough "Whoa!" to wait for his high-school sweetheart to return from college in Idaho. The couple eloped soon after, Palin never being one for grand shows of sentimentality.

Children followed: first Track, then Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. The oldest enlisted in the army last year and is slated for deployment to Iraq this month.

The picture of the Palin family standing on stage together at the Republican National Convention amounted to political gold. But the price for their mother's success, as is the case with all public parents, has been high. The teen pregnancy of 17-year-old daughter Bristol dominated national headlines in the wake of Palin's selection to join the McCain ticket. And considerable criticism, both from concerned fellow moms and hostile political opponents, has battered the family with questions as to whether Palin should be home with her infant son rather than seeking the nation's second-highest office (see sidebar).

Somehow, Palin appears immune to such scrutiny, the intense pushback she's faced throughout her career apparently having inoculated her from personal attacks. After her strong Sept. 3 speech to the RNC, all of Alaska cheered.

Nowhere did that applause reach greater fervor than at Tailgaters Bar and Grill in Wasilla. There, dozens of the closest members of Palin's extended Alaska family gathered to holler their approval between mouthfuls of American pub food and cold beer.

Martin Buser, a four-time winner of Alaska's famed Iditarod sled race, was among the frenzied throng. A close friend of Todd Palin, who holds four titles in Alaska's Iron Dog snowmobile race, Buser believes that Sarah Palin fulfills what the founders of the country had in mind for public servants-namely, "normal, hard-working, everyday citizens."

"If you asked all of the candidates how much a gallon of milk would cost or a gallon of gas, Sarah Palin certainly could tell you, because she's an everyday normal person," Buser said.

That's a sentiment shared among everyday normal folks throughout Wasilla. Outside the local Super Wal-Mart, most customers were happy to stop and talk about Sarah on a recent afternoon. Democratic retiree Rodney Webster, 74, couldn't help but lavish praise on his former mayor despite any political disagreements: "The town grew with her. And she grew with the town," he said.

Palin has since outgrown the town-both Wasilla and Alaska.
(Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Mike Wooten is the state trooper who was married to Gov. Palin's sister.)

Working mom

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani brought a little fire for his introduction of Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention Sept. 3. Giuliani castigated critics of the GOP's vice presidential nominee who wondered whether a mom of five, including an infant with Down syndrome and a pregnant unwed teen, is shirking her motherly duties in seeking high-profile political office: "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president? How dare they do that? When do they ever ask a man that question? When?"

The force of Giuliani's charge of hypocrisy rests in part on an assumption that there is no difference between men and women. The fact that people are asking it is not evidence of sexism, but rather an indication that most people inherently recognize gender distinctions no matter how fervently they insist otherwise, and that women have particular roles in nurturing young children.

Of course, the question has little to do with how well Palin might govern. And using a presidential campaign to raise it in earnest begs other questions, like whether her critics would hold the millions of working moms throughout the country-many also in taxing, time--consuming jobs-to the same standard of scrutiny.

For Christians, the issue of how much a mom should work while raising young children is best handled up close, among spouses and churches. But to the matter of whether men and women are identically made, no biblical controversy exists. They are different, and consequently, the questions they field will be.

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