Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Politicians’ children shouldn’t be props; let them live normal childhoods

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Originally published on on Thu, 11/13/2008 – 11:07am

There are many ways to judge a presidential candidate or a vice presidential candidate. But is how they handle their kids a character trait by which we should judge candidates?

The Obamas have done a pretty good job about sheltering their children from the spotlight. There was the Access Hollywood shoot in July and we did see them briefly after Michelle’s speech in Denver.

But we are about to see the true test of whether Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, can stay grounded — they have been invited to be on “Hannah Montana.” The offer is to appear on the show, but also to make an off-camera visit.

Miley Cyrus, the singer/actress (actress/singer??) who plays the title character on the Disney Channel show, felt like she could relate to the Obama girls.

“They are kind of like me before I started my own career,” Cyrus said. “You are kind of put in it because their dad and because of my dad so I would want it to be normal and they could come hang out on the set with normal girls. I think that would be fun for them.”

No offense to Miley, but most “normal” girls her age haven’t done controversial Vanity Fair shoots with Annie Leibovitz or answered thousands of fan mail letters and e-mail.

The “Hannah Montana” show is one of Malia’s favorite shows. When her father had his 30-minute commercial, she was worried that “her TV” would be threatened. Obama assured his daughter that they didn’t buy time on the Disney Channel.

Now it’s tempting when you’re 10 to appear on your favorite TV show, regardless of why this opportunity has arrived. But the Obamas want to be careful about overexposing their daughters to the spotlight.

It’s fair to say the world is a different place from when Amy Carter was 9 when her father was elected in 1976 or Chelsea Clinton, who was 12 when her father was elected in 1992.

Then we have 7-year-old Piper Palin. I watched Piper placed in the Matt Lauer interview this week. Lauer asked her about the hard parts of traveling with her mother.

Matt Lauer: Did you miss much school?
Piper Palin: A lot of school.
Matt Lauer: How’s that now; Is it hard to catch up?
Piper Palin: Yeah. It’s really hard.

The transcript doesn’t convey the feeling Piper puts into those words. Here we have a 2nd-grader saying it’s really hard to catch up at school. A second grader!

There are arguments that kids learn a lot about the world from traveling around in that situation. The Obamas don’t let their kids travel as much as the Palins do. The saga comes down to stability of friends and school vs. the adventures of travel.

And it may depend on the age. Older children might appreciate the travel while younger children want the stability. And it may depend on the individual child. It seems that selecting stability makes more sense than travel when it comes to being the child of a politician, though this comes from the perspective of someone without children.

Despite that perspective, I have had the feeling for the last few months that Sarah Palin uses her children as props. They aren’t along for the adventure; they are visual reminders that she is the mother of children. Trig shows up once again during the interviews at the Palin home this week.

Joel McHale, host of “The Soup” on E!, showed up on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” with his baby, spoofing the constant need to drag Trig in front of the cameras.

Experts far more knowledgeable than me say it’s not good to have Down syndrome babies exposed to as much light as noise as you find in the rally speeches or conventions.

But it’s also the way Sarah Palin talks about Track and his big decision to go to Iraq. There is pride in parents when their child makes the kind of sacrifice Track Palin is making, but John McCain and Joe Biden, in the same exact boat, underplay it instead of overplaying it.

And then there’s Bristol Palin, thrown under a bus as one of Sarah Palin’s first public moves. Then there was the dragging of Levi Johnston from Alaska just so the two lovebirds can hold hands for the camera in St. Paul.

Perhaps there are innocent reasons for all of this behavior on the part of Sarah Palin. But combined together, it looks bad to me.

And to make this absolutely clear, I would agree with this if Chelsea Clinton, Amy Carter, Emma Claire and Jack Edwards, and Malia and Sasha Obama were in the same situation. And this has nothing to do with a female political candidate vs. a male political candidate.

We know that Barack Obama and Sarah Palin ran national campaigns while having young children. And it’s important not to limit public service to those with grown children — quite frankly, their youth and vitality were positive strengths.

The difference is that the Obamas made sure access to their kids was limited, and the Palins trotted their kids out at the slightest provocation. On this character issue, there is a clear choice, regardless of your political beliefs.


Written by democracysoup

November 13, 2008 at 11:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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