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The Heir a Parent?

Here are five words I never thought I’d type: Quit picking on the Republican.

Believe me, no one reviles the GOP more than I. No one is more resentful of the way — by spitting and sneering — they’ve made filthy epithets out of once-neutral words like “liberal,” “homosexual,” and “Muslim.” No one gets queasier when the party’s politicians cozy up to corporations and brandish Old Glory’s broad stripes and bright stars in an effort to distract us from waxing fuel prices and waning civil liberties.

Excuse me while I swig some Pepto.

But ever since Senator John McCain named Sarah Palin his running mate, red and blue voters alike have been all a-chirp over the woman’s qualifications. Not her qualifications for the vice presidency, mind you, but as a mother. Which doesn’t sit well in the ol’ gut, either.

How can she accept a nomination, they ask, that will cast intense scrutiny on her five kids, one of whom is a pregnant, unmarried teen? (Palin, though, was happy to drag her Army-enlisting son into the spotlight at last week’s convention.) And didn’t the would-be VP take an eight-hour flight home from Texas in April, after going into labor at a governor’s convention? Isn’t that irresponsible?

Santa Barbara’s own Laura Schlessinger, a McCain supporter who has asked me never to call her for a quote, pooh-poohed Palin on her blog ( “What kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of governor within days of the birth?”

Let me be clear: I’m all for attacking Sarah Palin. Slam her for flip-flopping her position on Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Deride her for the cheap, inaccurate jabs at Obama, and the smug “take that” mug she flashes when she lets them rip. And, for god’s sake, if anyone’s having a Smear the Beauty Queen party, I do hope you’ll invite me.

But maligning her mamahood is out of bounds. Not because it’s mean. Not because girls can’t take the heat. And not even because no one ever asks how Dubya manages to juggle kids and a career (one assumes he doesn’t and moves on, right?).

No, calling her parenting into question is remiss for one reason only: It’s irrelevant.

While I have empathy for her kids, the truth is I don’t care what kind of mother she is. While I’m proud to see a woman on the ticket, I don’t care what kind of role model she is. Though I’m glad not to face the pressures she does, I don’t care if she has trouble balancing her job and family.

I care what she plans to do about war, abortion, gay marriage, energy, and the environment. These are my issues. Surely everyone has something they can care about more than who’ll knit booties for Bristol Palin’s love child.

To be fair, I felt the same way about Bill Clinton: I wouldn’t want to be married to the guy. Wouldn’t even want to accidentally bump up against him at a backyard barbecue (okay, maybe a little). But damn if he wasn’t an inspiring chief executive.

Look, we’d all like to believe that it takes a good person to be a good politician — that someone with values and even schedules like our own will best represent us in office. But deep down we know it takes something very different to succeed in Washington. A tough hide. A touch of idealism. A great poker face. And a knack for tracking, and even anticipating, the temperamental tides of power.

Maybe Sarah Palin has those qualities. Maybe she’d bring them — and her diaper bag — to the White House. I, for one, hope never to find out.

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