I've been thinking about how Sarah Palin would fare in the eyes of my Christian Republican friends if her name were Hillary Clinton. There is the disastrous interview with Katie Couric, which by comparison makes Dan Quayle appear an eloquent master of policy detail. There is the fact that she is vigorously campaigning for a job that will largely remove her from her young children for the next four years. There is the fact that her teenage daughter is unmarried and pregnant.
On that last alone, it takes little imagination to conjure the sort of remarks that would have been directed Clinton's way had her own daughter proven as careless. Because Palin is a Christian and a Republican, however, my friends view this positively, as proof of her family's pro-life credentials. They are willing to forgive, for who among us has not made mistakes?
These are admirable inclinations, and I agree with them entirely. But I suspect that many Christian Republicans wouldn't be as forgiving were this Hillary Clinton.
Clinton certainly squandered any benefit of the doubt she may have once received. From her earliest days in the White House, where she distinguished herself by ruthlessly removing anyone she suspected of being even remotely loyal to the departing Bush family, we have seen repeated glimpses into her character. Many of us have found what we see distasteful.
But the challenge is that what we see is often colored by tribal loyalties. Thus is Rudy Giuliani not laughed off the stage when he castigates Christian Republicans for questioning whether a mother of young children ought to be seeking such an office. Being lectured for uncharitable hypocrisy by Giuliani is, after all, a bit like being chastised for sexual indiscretion by Paris Hilton. "How dare they?" demanded Giuliani, that poster boy for marriage and parenting, implying that there is a double-standard in operation here, that those who question Palin would not question a father in similar circumstances. So firmly has this talking point penetrated the party rank and file that I heard it delivered all the way out here in Wichita, Kan., from a staunchly conservative Christian mother who turned down job opportunities while her own children were young.
We ought to dispense with Giuliani's diversionary attempt by replying that a man with small children likewise has no business abandoning them for four years. Good mothers and fathers decide every day to forego wonderful opportunities for the sake of their young children, and we should think less of those who don't, provided they have a choice in the matter-as a single working mother holding two jobs, say, does not.
My immediate point, however, is that I doubt Clinton would have received the same pass. Likewise, Palin's distressing lack of policy knowledge becomes admirable proof of some kind of small-town innocence. Not having eaten of the tree of Washington Knowledge, she has retained her purity. As for Clinton's encyclopedic knowledge of policy, well, the Devil is clever, too, isn't he?
I fully understand the necessity of sometimes embracing the lesser of two evils, or marginal competence over colossal wrongheadedness, or whatever set of comparisons my friends along the rational segment of the political spectrum use to choke their way through the voting process in modern America. I just wish we could be a little more evenhanded in our criticism.