Thursday, September 04, 2008

Biden's kids, Edwards' kids and a double standard

Joel raised a really good point at CUUMBAYA a little bit ago. (If you follow the link, it's in the comments to that post.)

But Joe Biden took office immediately after his wife and infant daughter were killed in a traffic accident, and the other two kids hospitalised. He took the oath in their hospital room. I'm not criticizing him for that decision, I'm just asking how one can criticize Palin for running when her kids need her after praising Biden.

I recall having somewhat similar thoughts about John Edwards when I wrote:

I get an asshole vibe from the guy. At the same time, I don't know that I want a man whose wife is dying running the country. Maybe I'm a bitch for that, but I'd rather not be speculating which role is getting short shrift, president or husband/father. And I'm going to be speculating that everytime there's a fuckup in the Edwards presidency while his first lady is dying. Again, maybe I'm a bitch for that.

Now, Elizabeth Edwards is an adult and can consent to John being at work all the time, but my understanding is that given the stage of her cancer there is an excellent chance that she will die in the next eight years, which would have left his kids with a president father and no mother. And I heard NOT ONE WORD from any of y'all on that point when Edwards was a candidate and I doubt you complained much when Biden was taking the oath either. But then, neither John Edwards nor Joe Biden has a vagina.

IMNERHO, this is another reason we should quit criticizing Palin's parental choices and focus on her record.



Anonymous said...

Taking a cue from you: Word.

Stephanie said...

There is something absolutely fascinating going on here from a sociological standpoint in terms of the motherhood policing of female politicians. I haven't quite figured it out though, but it's very disconcerting to hear, and reminds me of time I spent at Smith College where women did in fact police each other's behavior rigorously.

Since I'm going back to work almost immediately after giving birth (financial necessity), and don't plan to be the primary caregiver (though we'll both stay home, again financial necessity to work), all I can say is that it makes me want to stick out my tongue. God help me if breastfeeding doesn't work out....

goodwolve said...

The thing isn't about being a man or a woman.. it is about being a Family Values candidate. If you are going to spout right wing crap about prolife family values then I am going to judge you on YOUR family values. That is how it works. Do what you want, but know that your words are going to have to match your actions.

Chalicechick said...

Oh please, like Edwards didn't make a HUGE deal of his family values.


blah said...

Ms T, from where I stand, it seems to be mostly women policing Palin. I think you've got something there.

will said...

Since when wasn't politics filled with double standards? And it has always been tit for tat. As goodwolve said, if you spout your values then I'm going to judge you by those values.

Punching below the belt is an American political tradition. I doubt that genie will return to the bottle any time soon. And as elections continue to end near a 50-50 split - every angle will be played for a small percent gain.

About Biden and Edwards - if there had been traction or any political gain to be made when their moment was at hand - if circumstances dictated an attack strategy, it would have been done in a second.

Comparing them to Palin is off target. Double standard or not - she is all the various parts of her life - and fair game for nitpicking.

The media whizzes know within minutes what internet stories are getting the hits. If the preg daughter or Palin's mothering skills are what readers are reading then that's what will issued.

Besides, do you really believe substance and a person's record have ever been major factors in elections? If only Palin's record was discussed, every major media center would go belly-up.

A candidate's record gets lip service but their image and style get a lot more traction. (Think Ronnie Reagan.)

Rick Hoyt-McDaniels said...

It's perfectly legitimate to ask a candidate how they plan to balance private and public commitments. I want to know what arrangements my VP has made so she won't engaged in family issues when we need her in Washington. And her answer will reveal quite a lot of information about her values and character, which again, is a legitimate field of inquiry for a VP candidate. I would ask the same question of a male candidate in Palin's situation. No double-standard. Nor do I believe because she's a woman that her only acceptable answer is that she stay home with the family. But I do want to hear her answer.

Chalicechick said...

But did you ever ask John Edwards the QUESTION?

How about Biden?

If not, why not, if it's so important to you?


PG said...

First, I agree that Palin's record is what we should focus on.

Second, I know that Palin has been just fine as governor, and theoretically would be fine as vice president or even president with regard to her family responsibilities, because she is not the primary care-taker in her family anymore. She has been the primary wage-earner at least since 2002, when she was on the state oil commission and making a six figure salary, and her husband almost certainly spends more time at home than she does.

However, because a fundamental Republican plank (opposition to same sex marriages and parenting) is based on a gender binary that requires women to be the primary care-takers, very few Republicans have acknowledged that Mr. Palin and the nanny have been taking up the slack in the Palin home while Gov. Palin runs the state and now runs for VP. Part of the bullshit political narrative, as Peggy Noonan would put it, of this Republican campaign is to focus on Gov. Palin as a mother. (That's one of the reasons Noonan's preferred female candidate, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, couldn't compete; she's divorced and adopted her two young kids when she was well past child bearing age.)

In conservative ideology, a mother must be the primary care-taker; a father brings home the bacon, models masculine virtues and tells his daughters they're pretty so they don't have to find a guy to tell them that. In contrast, the Palins are a modern American family in which the mother works mostly outside the home and many of her traditional responsibilities are fulfilled by the father and paid assistance. (Such assistance can range from nannies and babysitters to the use of pre-prepared and fast food, laundry and house cleaning services, etc. -- very few families do the full June Cleaver anymore.)

Because they are social conservatives, Palin and her supporters must maintain the fiction that she is the full-time hockey and PTA mom while also holding powerful jobs. Phyllis Schlafly chalked it up to Palin's CEO-style abilities to manage. In an announcement on her governor site, Palin herself said, "As the mother of five, I know how to multi-task," to back up her statement that she would be able to govern the state simultaneously with running for VP.

So far as I know, Biden and Edwards never touted their abilities to multitask or do anything else based on their parenting. No one is saying that Palin's primary qualification is that she is a mother; the Republican version of her resume includes a great deal more than that. But that part of her biography is being hyped in a way that you simply never see among male politicians (and very rarely see even among female politicians).

Emily Couric started her political career in the PTA, but she went from there to president of the school board, then to the state senate. When she was being considered for lieutenant governor (before she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away), I never heard anyone talk about her parenting as indicative of her abilities in any other area. Her son ended up making movies with Jon Bon Jovi, so that's probably just as well.

As for the concern for Palin's family, I don't think we would see it absent the presence of a) her special-needs infant -- neither Biden nor Edwards had a kid at breast feeding age -- and now b) her teenage daughter's having a baby. Biden's famous daily commute from D.C. to Wilmington is precisely because he wouldn't uproot his sons to D.C., and he insisted on being home with them every night. If the Palins are in D.C. while their daughter, son-in-law and grandchild are in Alaska, even Mr. Palin can't do much baby-sitting while the young parents complete their educations and begin their careers.

I've said before, and I'll say it again: anything you put on your resume, even in an informal, biographical way, is going to be called into question. If I were running for office and mentioned my volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, I fully expect that someone would find out that no one ever lets me actually hammer anything. If you put your parenting on your resume, people will question how good it was. That's a nasty thing to do to the output of that particular resume line (i.e. your kids), but if you don't want it to happen, don't hype the parenting.

Rick Hoyt-McDaniels said...

John Edward's obligations to an adult spouse are not the same. And Elizabeth made it clear that she supported his campaign. Sarah Palin's situation is different: 5 children, 4 of them younger than 18, 1 of them with special needs, and 1 pregnant herself. And no I didn't ask Joe Biden, in 1972, when I was 10, but yes the question would have been appropriate.

Sarah Palin's perfectly reasonable response would be that she will hire professional help for the kids while she and her husband work. But nanny's smack of elitism and women's lib and would spoil the family values hockey mom narrative they Republicans have spun for her.

Chalicechick said...


Edwards has a 10 year old and an 8 year old who will likely not have a mother within a few years.


Stephanie said...

I think asking all candidates about work-life balance is fair.

However, asking is completely different than what I've been reading elsewhere, which is TELLING how Palin should behave (stay home with infant, stay home with all kids, breastfeed, educate kids differently with regards to sex ed). It's the telling that seems problematic and prescriptive to me, not the asking of questions.

Joel Monka said...

I'm sorry, but this whole narative about conservatives and evangelicals is such bullshit that I cannot believe that the people spouting it have ever even met one. Sure the FLDS are like that, but damn few others. My own mother was so fundamentalist that she didn't recognize Catholics as Christians, and so wrote one entire wing of the family off when they converted- we young children were told they were dead. And she worked outside of the home. PG, I worked for the Republican party for 30 years before I became a Libertarian, and I don't know ANYONE who believes the stuff you were rattling off. You don't have to keep or be a barefoot kitchen slave to be pro-life, you merely have to be against abortion. Ditto with the same sex marriage thing.

Now, I'm sure you're going to give me all kinds of things you read somewhere where some important R was interviewed by some wingnut rag... but I KNOW these people. I was raised that way. And they are not as you describe. The failure to understand this may be why only one Democratic Presidential candidate since WW II has gotten 51% of the vote.

ejgejg said...

"Punching below the belt is an American political tradition." I see this sort of reasoning all the time - this is just how things are done, she should have known this was going to happen, or she put her family out there and so they are fair game. It makes me depressed because it is pretty much liberals/dems saying, "Hey, they did it first," or "This is just how things are done," which seem to me to be just what we are not/should not be going for. If the Republicans all jumped off a cliff, would we? Thanks for continuing to make this point, CC.

Joel Monka said...

One last thing. If nobody will moderate their tone because it's the right thing to do, you should realize that it's the prudent thing to do. You want to know what all this bile accomplishes? McCain hasn't even spoken yet, and look at this: CBS Poll: McCain, Obama Tied .

PG said...


Certainly lots of Republicans and even religious conservatives have women in their families who work outside the home. These days, it seems difficult to keep a family afloat without two incomes. However, did your mother think that the cooking, cleaning and childcare should be done by primarily by her, primarily by your father or should be split down the middle between them? I said nothing about "barefoot kitchen slaves"; I said that the conservative devotion to tradition means that they hew to a gender binary that gives men primary economic responsibility and women primary domestic responsibility. Phyllis Schlafly spent a ton of time outside the home -- opposing the Equal Rights Amendment. She never held a job that could support her family, and was the primary domestic caretaker.

I also didn't mention abortion, because one can oppose it on the basis of believing that fetal rights to live outweigh others' rights to liberty, and believing that regardless of the gender that is burdened.

But every single person I know who is opposed to same-sex marriage (and being from East Texas and a member of the Federalist Society, I know what conservatives are like both in small towns and in elite institutions) believes that gender is an important distinguishing element of human beings. I do not know anyone who believes that the sexes are equivalent in all ways except physically, who is opposed to same-sex marriage.

It's pretty much impossible to think the sexes are legally and socially the same, yet think that it's horribly wrong for two people of the same sex to marry and parent children together. Every argument I have seen against same-sex marriage itself (as opposed to arguments about how such marriages should be made legal, i.e. whether through the courts, legislatures or direct democracy) ultimately has come down to the speaker's view that the genders are different in a way that determines their roles in marriage and in parenting.

You have to believe that mothering is different from fathering in more than name. To be OK with the likely reality of the Palin family, you have to believe that children can get along with much less "mothering" and much more "fathering" (and others' care) and not suffer from it. That's unlikely among people who believe that the practices of the past, except where they were an overt violation of rights, generally were good practices. After all, most adults today spent more time with their mothers than their fathers. If there's a meaningful difference between mothering and fathering, what unknown effect might the switch have on future generations?

As for polls, the Gallup Daily on Thursday (same day the CBS poll was released) says Obama has a 7 point lead. They say that doesn't reflect the effect of the Wednesday night speech, so it may be that Palin's own efforts will boost McCain. But the effect of attacks on Palin certainly should be reflected in that poll, and Gallup says "no dent in Obama lead so far."

As best I can tell, Palin's nomination has done a lot to shore up support for McCain among people who already identify as Republican/ conservative, and that may be reflected in the polls by an increase of a few percentage points for McCain. My husband has considered donating to McCain for the first time, but he never was a possible Obama supporter. I'm skeptical that Palin is going to pick up many people who ever were considering voting for Obama.

ogre said...

Joel, that CBS poll has a curious feature when one delves into the crosstabs. The pool of respondents in the earlier one is 5% more Democratic and 1% less Republican than the latter one--taken only a few days apart.

So unless one even indulges the fantasy that party affiliation changed that much in a few days... the polls are simply apples and oranges. The sample defect alone accounts for 3/4 of the apparent change. The rest may be a change--or noise--or a defect from some other source. Given than the other polling doesn't show that kind of collapse, and given that CBS polling is rated as being the second worst out there... I'm blithely unconcerned. It looks like news of Japanese landings on the Pacific coast, if you get my drift.

Biden's case is 35 years ago.

Delaware is a reasonable train commute from D.C.--not a full-blown all day flight across the continent. Biden kept his family "at home" and was there each night... which is pretty much what he'd have had to do as a single, working father in any case (not being wealthy). Couldn't lactate and didn't need to, and wasn't medically trained to tend to his sons' needs--but got them the care they needed.

What precisely would anyone have suggested he should have done? Quit work and been a welfare case taking care of the boys at home? Moved them to D.C. and away from what remained that was familiar?

Having been critiqued--personally--by fundie-folk who found my staying home with the kids "wrong" (a stay-at-home full time parent who was male was wrong, just wrong--and that I should find a job and my wife should be at home), I think you overstate your own experience, Joel. They do seem to feel that mom needs to be at home. Not just that a parent be at home.

I'm sure that there's a range there. But the stereotype family is their projection, not ours. And if they want to project it, then they can damned well gag on it some when it gets tossed back in their faces. And if they don't like it... tough. When they stop telling people who don't share their beliefs and views how we should live, we'll stop pointing out their hypocrisy.


UUpdater said...

The developmental differences between a 4 month old and a 8/10 year old are huge. The 4 month old will go through physiological and psychological development stages that older children are well past. The cases are very different.

With that having been said... Sarah Palin's choice seems to be perfectly in line with the Republican values she espouses. The Republicans may promote one man and one woman raising children, but they also have no issue with a single parent raising a child when the other parent is performing their patriotic duty. In fact numerous times during the convention they have honored the sacrafice that those families make. I suspect that if the cry of hypocrisy grows loud enough the Republicans will simply respond she is putting country first and the opposition doesn't "get it". On top of that they will point out the question is sexist and try to garner support around that. I doubt that calling her a hypocrit will lose her any of her supporters.

Chalicechick said...

How about the developmental affects of Edwards' kids watching their mother die in front of them?

Wouldn't you say those would be pretty significant, too?


UUpdater said...

I haven't met the person who would have an easy time watching their mother die, at any age. This doesn't make their needs similar to a 4 month old. Significant yes, similar not so much.

Chalicechick said...

Fine. I certainly didn't say that their needs would be exactly the same.

What I did say is that when people who are expressing concern for Palin's kids and giving Palin crap about choosing to run for office and think that they aren't being sexist need to examine whether they even considered the Edwards kids and if not, why not?


Comrade Kevin said...

I never took Edwards seriously enough to even criticize him for matter of this specificity.

The criticism of Palin as too busy with motherhood to do an adequate job has always rung hollow with me, so I've never made it for anyone.

It's a specious argument at best.

UUpdater said...

I think the primary thing that differentiates the situations is the age of the children involved. If Bill Clinton were diagnosed with cancer I don't think people would be questioning if Hillary should not run for the sake of Chelsea. So perhaps it's just a matter of perspective in the significance of the age difference in the kids.

Chalicechick said...

OK, Chelsea's like my age and Edwards' kids are eight and ten.

That's a ridiculous comparison.


UUpdater said...

Exactly. The point is obviously not that it's a female candidate. A college grad is significantly different than a grade school age child, which in turn is significantly different than an infant.

PG said...

But lots of people, including myself, DID question whether Edwards should continue running in light of his wife's recurrence of cancer. To claim that there is a double standard between Palin and Edwards seems somewhat specious. Moreover, in doing such questioning we have to politely tread around the fact that we're assuming Elizabeth Edwards is going to drop dead "within a few years," as CC put it.

But even if we take as truth the claim that Palin is getting questioned where Edwards was not, there are significant differences between average children who are 8 and 10 years old today and hopefully will be a bit older before they lose their mother, and a Down Syndrome baby. A baby needs a full-time caretaker, which is why I'm glad that Mr. Palin appears to have job flexibility that allows him to take that role.

But let's roll with the story that Gov. Palin is the full-time caretaker: Does Palin expect to continue bringing Trig to work with her and breast-feeding him on the job, as she did as governor of Alaska? I wish I thought that would fly well when she is meeting with the president of Egypt and the PM of Bahrain, but I doubt it. (Despite what's been said about Alaska's proximity to Russia, I haven't found any information on Palin's having met with even provincial Russian leaders, never mind the folks in Moscow.) There are many Americans, convinced of their own lack of sexism, who are bothered by having women breast feed or even breast pump in public.

Joel Monka said...

Well, never before in human history has a businesswoman excused herself and gone to a private room or restroom to breast pump before an important meeting so she'll be comfortable, but perhaps if we write to Gov. Palin she can set a new precedent. And while it's possible that the President of Egypt doesn't know that this sort of thing could happen, her people could probably arrange restroom priviliges during the trip with his people.

Ye Gods, I cannot believe that UUs are arguing this. I hope it never gets out that apparently I'm the third best feminist in the UUA- I'll never live it down.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Joel is right --- we are feigning concern for Palin's kids as a way to discredit her. There are plenty of issue-related ways to discredit her. But: the American public is now more concerned about "character" than "issues", so, we are trying to use the methods that will speak to the people who are taken in by Palin. That's smart.
I have a co-worker who is very bright who listened to Palin's speech and said, "I was convinced. She seemed very self-confident." I was shocked that she thinks "self-confident" is a, no, "the", qualification for VP. But that's what it comes down to.
I think people who are very self-confident are dangerously flawed, but then I've never had much in the way of main-stream opinions.

PG said...

Sigh. I said at the outset that because I feel certain that Palin is not the primary domestic caretaker, but instead is dividing that work with her husband and paid assistance, I am not worried about this issue. I *would* be worried if I believed the conservative myth that Palin is a superwoman who does all the domestic work AND runs Alaska. And Palin allegedly has been able to do things as governor of Alaska -- like bring her baby to work and breastfeed DURING meetings -- that I don't think would work as well when she is VP. Ideally we'd all be able to bring our toddlers to work as necessary, but most people's workplaces don't work that way and I doubt the White House does either.