Barack Obama and most Republicans are in agreement regarding the revelation that Sarah Palin’s unmarried, 17-year-old daughter is pregnant: As political fodder, it’s out of bounds. They’re right.
“It has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president,” Obama said Monday, “and so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.”
How John McCain’s running mate responds to the inevitable coverage, though, and the other arduous tests of a national campaign, is not only relevant, it’s crucial information for an American electorate that knows uncomfortably little about her. Her performance under fire for the next two months — beginning tonight when she addresses the Republican National Convention — will also say a lot about McCain’s judgment.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee rolled the dice by picking Palin, who has been Alaska’s governor for less than two years after two terms as mayor of a town only slightly larger than Stanwood. McCain did so after only two face-to-face meetings, during which he presumably discerned in her not only the soul of a reformer, but the intelligence, vision and fortitude required to sit a heartbeat away from the presidency.
How candidates perform in a tough election campaign provides much of the basis for voters to make their own judgments. Palin’s family issues shouldn’t be under a microscope, but everything else about her should, including a legislative investigation of allegations that she abused her power as governor, details of her political and financial history, and her knowledge of national and international affairs.
Legitimate questions about Obama’s experience and readiness to be commander in chief will continue to be asked, too, and he’ll have to convince voters that he’s up to the job. But he has already survived an extremely challenging primary campaign against a seasoned and well-funded rival. His running mate, Joe Biden, has been tested through parts of two presidential campaigns and 35 years in the Senate. McCain has proven himself the same way. Palin is just starting that process.
That means being tested under the pressure of an intense spotlight. Only by seeing how well she handles that can voters get an idea of how she might do under the pressure of, say, staring down a serious military threat.
On that score, Sarah Palin is untested. The media and others should leave her family alone, but the nature of the office she seeks dictates that no scrutiny of the candidate herself can be considered out of bounds.