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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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The health-care debate became a personal referendum on her child's right to life when Palin dispatched her "death panel" interpretation of proposed reforms. In March, she came roaring out when President Obama joked on late night TV that his bowling skills were like the Special Olympics.

Palin wasn't wrong about the inappropriateness of the remark, for which the president apologized to the Special Olympics before the segment aired. But were her objections primarily those of a wounded mother -- or those of a heat-seeking politician? Will we be hearing from Palin every time someone uses the R-word or makes a lame joke?

Well, no, not every time. When Rush Limbaugh used "retard," suggesting a "retard summit" at the White House, it was "satirical," Palin recently explained to her Fox News colleague, Chris Wallace. When Emanuel used it, it was name-calling. It isn't clear whether Palin considered Rush's memorable mimicry of Michael J. Fox's "fake" Parkinson's disease symptoms another demonstration of satire or mere hideous cruelty.

Given that Palin obviously made an excuse for Limbaugh, whose stab at humor was nothing resembling satire, means that her "teachable moment" via Emanuel was really using her child as a political tool.

Celebrities who embrace causes are valuable players in raising awareness and advancing policy. That said, the degree to which one uses another's circumstances to achieve those ends requires a studious self-awareness that seems lacking in the equation of Trig and his mother.

Perhaps the erstwhile governor still thinks in first-person plural, viewing Trig as part of herself. But he is also a separate individual deserving of privacy, if unable to say the words she needs to hear: "No more, Mama, please."

Another political mother, Hillary Clinton, made good on her commitment to protect her child's privacy. Agree with her politics or not, most Americans would concede her wisdom in shielding Chelsea from media exposure until her daughter could fend for herself.

In the spirit of which, speaking in second-person imperative -- mother to mother -- be careful, Sarah.

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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