John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin to be his running mate was surprising, but the surprise pales in comparison to the reaction of conservative Christians, especially Catholics. In their race to endorse McCain-Palin, they have cast aside any questions about the complementarity of the sexes, or even the late John Paul II’s theology of the body.
Catholic laymen who have always voted Republican but were unhappy with McCain were, not surprisingly, the first to crumble at the sight of the moose-hunting, pistol-packing pro-life mother of five, but I have since seen orthodox priests say that they wish Mrs. Palin were at the top of the ticket. And one traditionalist Catholic is now implying that it might even be sinful to vote for a third-party candidate instead of McCain. (In fairness, he sees the pick of Palin as one of several signs that the Republican Party is avowedly pro-life with no exceptions in this election cycle, but since Catholics are not bound to vote under pain of sin, it’s ridiculous to imply that a vote for any candidate—as long as you are not supporting that candidate because he supports policies in opposition to Christian moral teaching—could be sinful.)
The negative reactions have been few and far between. One Catholic mother of seven, upon hearing the news, wondered why the mother of a four-month-old child (let alone a child with Down Syndrome) would want to run for vice president. Of course, that same child was born prematurely after Palin, leaking amniotic fluid, refused to cancel a speech at a Republican Governor’s Conference at which John McCain was in attendance. The Palins chose not to abort baby Trig (not a minor matter, considering that upward of 90 percent of Down’s babies are murdered in their mothers’ wombs), but they were willing to take a calculated risk with his life in order to advance her political career.
The revelation of the pregnancy of Palin’s 17-year-old daughter has been jumped on by the left with glee, but Catholics can certainly understand that sin happens. More disturbing is the fact that Mrs. Palin knew that accepting the nomination meant exposing her daughter to international scrutiny and ridicule—and yet she did it anyway. Unlike her daughter’s premarital sex, that was not a decision made in the heat of passion.
This is just sexism, some Catholic women (and a few men) have responded. Would I be raising the same issues if Mrs. Palin were a man? Well, the question of throwing the 17-year-old daughter under the bus would be the same if we were discussing Todd rather than Sarah. But they are right: Most of the other questions wouldn’t come up, not because I would go easier on a man, but because they wouldn’t exist.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it is sexist to raise them. Instead, it points to the very heart of the problem: From a Catholic understanding of the complementarity of the sexes, should a woman ever find herself in the position where she has to choose between her vocation as a wife and mother and political service? Even considering this a choice that needs to be made implies that, at best, motherhood and political service are of equal value.
But they aren’t—not in the eyes of the Church. That is not to demean wives and mothers, but to raise their vocation to its proper dignity—a dignity that dwarfs any that may once have been attached to politics.
It’s hard not to like Sarah Palin. Her accent may grate even on my Midwestern ears; she may be all too happy to accept the role of a “pit bull in lipstick” (not exactly a dignified way for a woman—much less a mother—to act); and she has certainly shown an eagerness to cast aside political positions that no longer serve her interests. (Despite her pro-life credentials, in her last political race—for governor of Alaska in 2006—Mrs. Palin refused to discuss the issue except to vow not to propose pro-life legislation if elected.) But there is no doubt that, compared with Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and John McCain, she seems more normal—more one of us. Her failings as much as her virtues bolster that feeling.
But that doesn’t change the decision before us in November. Anyone who votes for John McCain because of Sarah Palin still votes for John McCain, with all that that implies: rabid support for a war that two consecutive popes have condemned; the possible expansion of that war to Iran, and maybe Syria; a new Cold War with Russia; a vow to expand funding of embryonic stem-cell research, including the creation of new lines, which requires the destruction of more embryos; an unwillingness (as McCain repeatedly stated back in 1999) to overturn Roe v. Wade; support for contraception, sex education, and family-planning programs.
Anyone who planned to abstain from voting in November or intended to vote for a third-party candidate and is now considering voting for McCain-Palin needs to ask himself this question: Why? Is Sarah Palin providing cover for his desire to vote for McCain? Or is her nomination simply a convenient excuse to allow him to vote against Barack Obama?
If the latter, it would be better to own up to the reason and state forthrightly that he is not voting for McCain-Palin but against Obama-Biden. Then, his vote for the Republican ticket at least would not imply support for all of the anti-Christian policies that McCain has proposed, and the voter will not feel compelled to defend McCain when he carries through on his promises.
For myself, nothing has changed. Neither ticket will receive my vote. Instead, I will offer a prayer on Election Day that Mrs. Palin’s presence on the ballot does not signal the final triumph of feminism over the traditional Christian understanding of the proper relationship between the sexes.