The dustup between Keith Olbermann and Bristol Palin has got me thinking — and it involves some issues bigger than the two of them. Hell, it’s even bigger than Olbermann’s ego, and that’s saying a lot.
It started with Olberdouche deciding that the 20-year-old single mother and dancing show star was his “worst person in the world” for agreeing to be a spokeswoman for a teen abstinence group. After all, she hadn’t been abstinent, so she was obviously a hypocrite.
Palin’s defenders (and Olbermann detractors — there’s some overlap) pointed out that in many cases, the best people to talk about the consequences of decisions are those who made the “wrong” choice. Would Olbermann have been as critical of Yul Brynner, who — while dying of lung cancer — recorded a an anti-smoking message to be aired after his death? Who is better to speak about how bad a choice can be than someone who made the wrong choice and paid the price?
That’s a hell of a powerful argument. It’s used in a lot of ways — we use inmates in “scared straight” programs, the most zealous anti-smoking and anti-drinking advocates are former smokers and drunks, and we often sentence drunk drivers to tell their stories in schools.
But there’s a subtle difference here with Palin and teen pregnancy, a critical one that differentiates her from examples like Yul Brynner.
Brynner never had to worry about hurting his tumor’s feelings, about his tumor growing up and finding out he resented it. And if it did, Brynner would like that.
The most common consequence of teen sex is pregnancy. And when the teenager decides to have and keep the baby, then that child instantly becomes a factor in everything the parent says and does.
So when the parent discusses how it was wrong to have sex so young, and how the pregnancy profoundly changed her life and instantly curtailed her life choices and dictated the course of her life, then it’s hard for the child (once it grows up enough) to interpret that as a rejection of the child.
It’s an difficult balancing act. “I deeply regret having sex while so young, and it forever changed my life, and suddenly I found I had a lot fewer choices and a hell of a lot more responsibilities than I was ready for… but I don’t regret it in the least! It was a young and foolish and impulsive decision that I will live with for the rest of my life…because it gave me the most valuable thing I could ever imagine, and I wouldn’t give up my baby for anything! So please, learn from my mistakes and don’t have sex before you’re sure you’re ready for it, and all the consequences…like my baby, which is the best thing that ever happened to me!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have President Obama, who championed abortion and sex education because he didn’t want his daughters to be “punished with a child” out of ignorance.
It’s common sense — children shouldn’t have children. But guess what? They often do. And at that point, they have pretty much given up the privileges and protection of being children, and passed them on to their child. One of the children has to stop being a child and being a grownup, and it ain’t gonna be the newborn.
Earlier, I said it was a difficult balancing act. I was wrong. It’s an impossible one. Every time Bristol Palin talks about the value of abstinence and not having children too early, she’s in a way saying that she wishes she didn’t have her son. Some day, he’ll be old enough and aware enough to grasp that — and not the full nuances behind it. And that is something that every single young parent of an unplanned child has to face.
What should Palin do? What should every other teen in her situation do?
I dunno. It’s a no-win situation. And one that transcends the petty politics that we (well, me and a lot of you) often obsess over and reduce everything to the political spectrum.
In this particular case, I think Palin is doing the best thing she can, and Olbermann is proving just what an asshole he is. But that last point hardly needs restating — it’s self-evident on a regular basis.
But on the macro scale, removing the individuals involved… I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I don’t even think there’s a complicated one.
But we should at least think a hell of a lot about it. Because kids aren’t going to stop having kids any time soon.