I have a question for all the moral equivalency experts out there. Isn't hiring Bristol Palin to be the spokeswoman against teen pregnancy a bit like appointing Tommy Chong drug czar? Ms. Palin, daughter of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is currently teen ambassador for a nonprofit group dedicated to spreading the word about the consequences of teen pregnancy. On tour, Ms. Palin, 18, tells audiences of impressionable teenagers that abstinence is a realistic way for teenagers to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Palin's position on birth control evidently has undergone a revolution since last February when she told Fox News that abstinence is "not realistic at all." Meanwhile the father of Palin's baby, Levi Johnston, has also been enjoying the spotlight, appearing on daytime talk shows and telling CBS News that condoms and birth control should be "enforced," though he neglected to say whether local, state or federal law enforcement agencies should be responsible for condom enforcement.
Ms. Palin's public appearances are awkward, cringe-inducing balancing acts that hold, on one hand, the awesomeness of having a child, and, on the other, dire warnings about having life-destroying babies. Her Tripp is "awesome," Palin told Good Morning America. He is the "the love of my life," and "the best thing that ever happened to me." Motherhood is wonderful and a blessing. Here, just look at these adorable photos! Oh, but unplanned teen babies will also ruin your life. The fact is Ms. Palin is sending more mixed messages than a Blackberry in a blender.
When Palin's employer, Candie's Foundation -- the nonprofit wing of the "sexy" shoemaker -- went after a high-profile spokeswoman it must have found the pickings slim. After all, no one wants to listen to a pitiful, unknown teen mom drone on about safe sex. And there are just not that many teenage celebrity moms, thankfully, due to the obvious reason that babies are major drags on one's career. But for Bristol Palin, unwed teen pregnancy has been a career-booster, even if she tells millions of television viewers that she does not want to be a celebrity. Ms. Palin has gone from obscure child of a famous politician to America's most famous unwed teen mom.
Signing Ms. Palin was a coup for the Candie's Foundation too. Palin has beauty, presence, star-power, name recognition, and an adorable baby. She is good TV, especially with her dad, the "First Dude," of Alaska, sitting supportively by her side. No doubt, the hard part was to train Bristol to go on national TV and, with a straight face and without sounding like an utter bimbo, say she regrets getting pregnant, but she does not regret having the baby, and how the baby is the love of her young life, but no one else should have such a love in their life, at least till they are much older and preferably married.
Marriage does not seem to be in the cards at the moment for Bristol and Levi, particularly with Levi continuing to make an ass of himself on afternoon talk shows, and both families talking trash about the other. At one point Sarah Palin's father called Johnston a deadbeat dad, and Johnston's mother, adding another chapter to the Johnston family white trash legend, was busted for allegedly selling drugs to an undercover cop. Indeed, Levi seems destined for a career as regular guest on The Howard Stern Show or a celebrity contestant on some as-yet dreamt up Fox reality TV show co-starring Joey Buttafuoco and Kato Kaelin.
DESPITE HER rhetoric about the hardships of motherhood, Palin's baby is certainly not the burden it would be for most single teen moms. No doubt she will have a lot of expensive help in the governor's mansion when it comes to child rearing. When Bristol goes off to college, the governor's grandchild will have the best governesses, or will attend the best daycare, and, later, the best private schools. But for poor teens whose mothers are not governor, single parenting is not so breezy. Most will drop out of school, end up on welfare, and suffer through a series of disastrous relationships. Addictions and abuse are common aspects of a single teen mother's existence. Sadly it is these poor, working class teens that idolize B-list celebrities like Bristol Palin, and take it to heart when she says her baby is the best thing that ever happened to her. And probably could not understand all the fuss over Palin's pregnancy to begin with.
The scandal, you may recall, came right in the middle of the McCain-Palin campaign and threatened to flatten the Palin/GOP Convention bump like a dead polecat. After all, Gov. Palin had been preaching the virtues of "abstinence only" for years, and here her own daughter could not resist her own carnal desires in the arms of a high school hockey hunk. Since they were already leading in the polls, Democrats judged they did not have to say much of anything about the Palin affair, and they were right. The story spoke for itself. Besides, why risk your lead taking potshots at a teenage girl in trouble?
Doubtless some will ask, who are we to judge? After all, everyone makes mistakes, and teenagers often make enough to last a lifetime. True, but it is another, perhaps larger mistake not to call Ms. Palin and the Candie's Foundation on the blatant mixed messages they are sending teens. Bristol Palin is not the real face of unwed teen pregnancy. She is the rock star image. The real face can be seen in the Candie's Foundation's own statistics: daughters of young teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves; eight out of 10 fathers don't marry the mother of their child; sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.
If you want to show your teenagers the real face of unwed teenage pregnancy, organize a field trip to the state penitentiary, and once inside ask the prisoners there about their awesome single-parent childhood.