The XX Factor

Palin as Bad Mother

Jessica , the opening anecdote of Vanity Fair’s latest Sarah Palin takedown , in which little Piper is forcibly ushered onstage for a public display of maternal affection, didn’t do much for me either. I can’t imagine any political road show operates any differently. The kid is backstage playing with friends or dolls, and then the kid is pushed onstage to wave and look cute. Malia and Sasha have done it a hundred times.

Is it sexist to get on Palin’s case for her bad mothering? A 2007 New York Times profile of John Edwards showed him practically twisting little Jack’s arm to make him talk to a reporter, so it’s not just women in the spotlight. Although I imagine as more women run for office, we will get increasing scrutiny of the effects of their campaigns on their children. In Palin’s case, I do think it’s fair game, since she has lately distilled her public image into the title “Mama Grizzly,” so it’s perfectly natural to wonder about what happens to the actual cubs.

That said, I don’t think the accusations of hypocrisy- that she now neglects little Trig, hires an army of nannies, that Todd does most of the domestic work, that the kids are spoiled brats-will make any difference: Author Michael Joseph Gross sums up his findings this way: “Anywhere you peel back the skin of Sarah Palin’s life, a sad and moldering strangeness lies beneath.” People said essentially the same thing about Ronald Reagan. He was  a prop of his controlling wife, and his own children can’t stand him. But this only made the public love him more. Palin is almost pre-ordained to fill this role of dubious icon for whom the growing gap between her private life and her public image is somehow beside the point.