Last year, I watched a six-part British TV production on PBS called "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard." It was about a suburban supermarket manager who's fed up with corrupt politics and decides to stand up against the system. She stands for Parliament, forms a new party - consisting mostly of women - and somehow, against all odds, wins the election and becomes Prime Minister. Her oldest daughter has trouble coping and causes a scandal by posing nude for a magazine. Her blue-collar husband also chafes at his wife's newfound celebrity and power, and admits to a sordid money-laundering incident from his past.
The sudden emergence of Sarah Palin reminded me of Ros Pritchard, from the fairy tale rise of the feisty mom-turned-politician right down to the wayward teenage daughter. And Palin's story is dominating the Republican National Convention so far here in Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
These delegates absolutely adore Sarah Palin. They were already confident about beating Barack Obama in November, and the addition of Palin makes many of them downright cocksure - they've got the winning ticket in McCain-Palin.
"Wait until the country gets a load of Sarah Barracuda," longtime Republican strategist Mary Matalin told me today, using the nickname the governor earned as a scrappy high school point guard. "She's going to wow everybody on Wednesday night." But on Monday, the "wows" were in reaction to Palin's bombshell announcement that 17-year-old unmarried daughter Bristol Palin is five months pregnant, and as a result will marry the baby's father, a boyfriend identified only as "Levi."
Palin said she's "incredibly proud" of her pregnant teen, and "even prouder" at the prospect of becoming a grandmother at 44 (never mind that she preaches abstinence and opposes sexual education in the schools). But she only went public about her daughter's condition because of the barrage of rumors on the Internet - at Daily Kos, Atlantic Online and elsewhere - that Bristol is the real mother of Palin's newborn son Trig. The speculation centers on Bristol's five-month absence from school last winter and spring because of "mono"...the fact that no one even suspected Governor Palin was pregnant until she announced it in March, when she was seven months along and showing no signs of pregnancy...on photos that show Bristol sporting what could be a "baby bump" last winter while Mom was as svelte as ever...and on the way Palin gave birth to her premature son with Down Syndrome. The governor was in Texas to speak at a conference when she said her water broke. Rather than rush to the nearest high-risk maternity hospital, the 44-year-old mother of four, going into labor one month early with a chromosomally mutated fetus, decided to deliver her keynote speech, then board a plane back to Alaska, fly eight hours while in a labor that no one on the plane noticed, land in Anchorage and then drive all the way back to Wasilla before delivering Trig at her local hospital.
I am told by obstetricians that this is beyond ridiculous, medically insupportable and probable cause for a malpractice suit.
Suffice to say that there are those at this convention - they are not delegates - who find the pregnancy of Palin's daughter a tad on the suspicious side. By backdating Bristol's pregnancy to April, it becomes almost impossible for her to be Trig's true mother. She's not expected to give birth until after Election Day. But many observers here note that Bristol's being with child still doesn't explain away all those other odd circumstances from Sarah Palin's last pregnancy.
As far as the Republicans are concerned, this is Internet conspiracy talk - and they suspect the Obama campaign of spreading it. Obama denied that flat out today, and angrily said he will not tolerate any attacks on any candidate's family, especially the children. He said all the right things and seemed sincere.
Sincerity is what some critics think Palin lacks, and there will be enormous pressure on her when she accepts her vice presidential nomination Wednesday night. If she is engaging, forthright and personable, addressing the questions about her head-on, she could emerge from this convention as a formidable partner for McCain in the general campaign. If she falters, appears defensive or out of her league, or if there are any more sordid revelations, she could doom the ticket, or even be pulled from it by McCain. She hired a lawyer today to handle her end of Alaska's "Troopergate" investigation; her husband admitted a DUI conviction from 22 years ago. What's next? She hangs upside down in the rafters of the Juneau capitol during Alaska's long dark winters?
As I wrote the other day - and I've heard this echoed by several knowledgeable talking heads here in St. Paul - we underestimate Sarah Palin at our own peril. She is obviously a talented politician. But there's more to her than meets the eye. People roared during her introductory speech the other day when she announced that she had told Congress "thanks but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere," the pork barrel project that's become emblematic of wasteful earmark spending.
The truth? She was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. She campaigned for it when she was running for governor. She went to Washington to lobby Congress for more money for it. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Palin pulled the plug on the bridge only when Congress balked at its rising cost - and she still took the $225 million from Washington. She simply used it on other projects, to the great dismay of the people in Ketchikan who would've benefited from the bridge - and is now building a "road to nowhere," which was supposed to connect to the bridge, which isn't being built. But if Alaska doesn't build the road, it will have to give back the $25 million for that portion of the project, so Palin is building the road anyway.
This is why I always tell everyone - Obamamaniacs, people who swoon over Arnold Schwarzenegger, those who thought Sarah Palin was a MILF and now think she's about to become a GILF - that you have to peel away the layers on these politicians to find the truth. There's always more there than you think. Few of them are as squeaky-clean as they seem. The breath of fresh air sometimes hides a nasty stink.
It will be up to the voters to decide whether they're bothered by a teenage pregnancy in the governor's family. Perhaps a little sex ed in the home would have done Bristol Palin some good. I know Alaska has the lowest population density in America, but it's not the Palin family's personal responsibility to fill in all that open space.
Republicans here don't care about any of this. They see Palin as the godsend they need to stop Obama. Right now, the voters at large aren't sure. As we fill in more of the blanks about her in the days ahead, we'll find out whether McCain pulled a rabbit out of the hat - no pregnancy pun intended - or made a rash, ill-informed decision that will haunt him, and the GOP, for the next eight years.