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What Mothers Know

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

You don't need a briefing book on being a mother to answer this one:

What do you do when your daughter comes home complaining that she wants to drop off the swim team or quit the play or, with the little ones, never go to school again because the other kids are being so mean, calling her names and saying unbelievably terrible things about her family and especially her mother?

Easy, right? Sure, the first few times, you want to beat up the bullies with your own bare hands, and call their mothers and tell them what terrible children they've raised. But you don't. These are life lessons. You tell her about "sticks and stones," you tell her to swim even faster, sing louder, laugh in their faces when they say mean things and prove by her success that she's better than they are. Listen to your mother, you say, mothers know about this.

Sarah Palin didn't just take a political risk when she quit the governorship of Alaska without completing her first term. She took herself out of electoral politics for good. Alaskans will never again elect her, at least as long as the people who are around right now are still voting. And half a term as governor of Alaska will never be seen as enough to qualify for the presidency.

Especially for a quitter and a sore sport.

Was Palin treated unfairly by the media? Sure. So were Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton and Katie Couric. Most "first" women are. They also get much more attention, fame and celebrity, and better seats at Yankee Stadium. I have the utmost respect for women who decide that the fame isn't worth the candle and put it aside to raise and protect their children. Your children only have one mother.

Problem is, I don't think for a minute that Palin's goal is to give up the limelight. You don't wear a television red suit jacket if that's what you're doing. Quite the contrary. I think she thinks she's heading for places where the lights shine much brighter than they do in Siberia-adjacent.

We don't know exactly what the issues will be in 2012 or 2016, but in every presidential election, character and judgment are critical. Palin, as a candidate, will forever be the quitter. In tough times, she walked. Faced with harsh critics, major budget problems and investigations into her own ethics, she skedaddled right out of there. If she can't stand the heat in Alaska…

And judgment? I had to laugh when I saw my old buddy Dick Morris quoted as saying he wouldn't have advised Palin to resign. Talk about an understatement. Dick would have barred the door and made the bullies sound nice. It's easy to feel like a little girl when it's your ethics and your kids being attacked. That's why kids need mothers (and fathers), and why politicians need advisers. I have no doubt there were many people around Palin who told her (or would have, had they been asked) not to quit. Judgment is about listening.

The question Palin answered incorrectly this weekend didn't require her to study up on Supreme Court decisions, or even to remember names of newspapers. It wasn't a liberal trick or an unfair ambush by the mainstream media. It should have been a softball for a woman who sold herself as bringing the wisdom of motherhood to high office. And getting it wrong is not a mistake voters are likely to forgive anytime soon.

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