Sarah Palin should beware of exploiting her youngest child

Sarah Palin with her son Trig at a book signing in Tempe, Ariz., in December.
Sarah Palin with her son Trig at a book signing in Tempe, Ariz., in December. (Ross Franklin/associated Press)
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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, February 14, 2010

A hurdle familiar to any mother is learning to view her baby as separate from herself. How many of us have answered questions about our babies in first-person plural?

-- How old is your baby?

-- Oh, we're 22 months now.

Well, no, we're not; he is. Yet we nod in universal understanding of the profound sense of oneness that evolves in part from pregnancy. For nine months, mother and baby are inextricably "we" -- linked in body and spirit, every move and morsel belonging to both.

These thoughts surfaced during Sarah Palin's latest public scolding of someone who spoke disparagingly of the special-needs population. This time, Rahm Emanuel was singled out for using the word "retarded" to describe the behavior of certain out-of-favor Democrats.

Palin's defense of people with special needs is commendable. Her obvious love for -- and pride in -- her Down syndrome child, Trig, is touching. But each time she sallies forth as Mama Bear to America's special-needs citizenry, invoking Trig's name amid demands for her children's privacy, a bit of uneasiness slithers between text and subtext.

At what point do Palin's noble intentions become Trig's exploitation?

The genius of Palin's good-heartedness is she can't easily be criticized. Her public images as Mother and Politician are so entwined that to question one is to impugn the other. Equally unprofitable is any effort to impose perspective on her condemnations lest one appear to be defending the indefensible.

This is virgin territory for politicos and pundits. How does one proceed?

Palin herself has hardly been discreet regarding her youngest child. She has spoken and written about her misgivings upon learning that she carried a Down syndrome baby. She told a pro-life crowd that she considered abortion and wasn't sure she could care for a child with special needs. These were surely sincere and heartfelt remarks shared by others in the crowd.

Doubt always stalks conviction, but does it demand expression? Might Trig someday read his mother's abortion thoughts and find them hurtful?

Clearly, Palin is trying to remain true to her 2008 vice presidential campaign promises -- to be a friend and advocate of the nation's citizens with special needs. Although she can't make good on her intended policy goals, she can lend her voice and be an advocate in other ways. A year into the Obama presidency, Palin has emerged as a moral reflex, playing Mother Superior to the Democrats' chosen one.

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