The New York Sun reported on September 5 that Naral Pro-Choice New York has “issued a statement . . . faulting Governor Palin of Alaska for using her line-item veto powers to cut funding the state Legislature passed earlier this year for Covenant House, an organization that provides services to troubled youths, including teenage mothers.” A perfectly reasonable criticism, right? It might be, if Naral’s spokeswoman, Samantha Levine, hadn’t gone on to say:
We certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on an individual’s personal circumstance, but you’re seeing a real discrepancy between Governor Palin’s political positions and what seems to be reflected in her personal life. . . . That’s why we thought it appropriate to comment. . . .
It’s terrific to have such a close-knit support system, but there are young girls out there who don’t. To try to deny them the support they also need we think is pretty hypocritical. It’s just ironic that it’s a program specifically oriented toward helping young mothers.
So long as we’re using so loose a definition of hypocrisy, I might as well complain about the paralipsis in that first sentence. You’ll see a lot of this device in the weeks ahead. The OED defines it as “emphasizing or drawing attention to something by professing to say little or nothing about it, or affecting to dismiss it.” The Palin family is “off limits,” says Joe Biden, thus reminding everyone with the intellect of a condom wrapper why we’re meant to be concerned about the Palin family. Levine uses this figure clumsily. She should have said, “We certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on the discrepancy between Governor Palin’s political positions and what seems to be reflected in her personal life,” and left it at that.
But the Palin family might as well be fair game, because this “discrepancy” is imaginary. Whatever short-term gain lies in exploiting it should be outweighed by the fact that accustoming the electorate to illogic is a bad long-term plan. (I think Barack Obama would agree, at least in theory.) Here are some points to consider:
• It’s easier for an adult with a loving partner and a reliable income to raise a child than it is for a teenager with no partner or reliable income to do so. Thus, the former is preferable to the latter.
• Sometimes, pregnancy occurs. It has consequences, one of which can be the inconvenience of raising an unwanted child. Consequences are nature’s way of telling us to be careful.
• Faced with consequences, one decides how to proceed, using the resources at one’s disposal. In the United States, abortion is a possibility—so, fortunately, is having a child.
• Some people have more than others do: more money, more family members willing to lend a hand, more in the way of hand-me-down cribs, strollers, or toys. It’s a simple fact of life, and—though voluntary charity is vastly preferable to selfishness—it doesn’t follow from this fact that those who have must give to those who don’t.
• Bristol Palin is having her baby.
I can’t imagine Naral really means this, but the only conclusion to be drawn logically from its statement is that unless everyone can have the resources at Bristol Palin’s disposal, at government expense, Bristol Palin had better have an abortion. Crazy, I know. Of course, what Naral really means is to use Bristol’s good fortune (having a “close-knit support system”) to arouse envy and resentment, and to encourage the dangerous impulse to equate fairness with equality of outcome.
No, I’m not really as callous as this makes me sound. I think the government ought to support unwed mothers, so long as it doesn’t eliminate consequences altogether, or encourage the phenomenon of unfit mothers having babies to increase their welfare benefits. But wait. There’s just one more problem with this whole story—Palin didn’t cut anything. The reduction initially reported by the Washington Post and then shamelessly flogged by Naral was a cut to a proposed increase, not to Covenant House’s existing operating budget. In fact, the $3.9 million figure was a great big raise.
Is the Washington Post merely as bad at math as Naral is at logic? Here, have a paralipsis, free of charge: I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that either one of these organizations has a vendetta against Sarah Palin.