A Cynic's View of Palin's Family Fanfare

I'm not one to be moved by political speeches. Having covered John Kerry's campaign in 2004 for NEWSWEEK, and Hillary Clinton after that, cynicism is as close as I come to a belief system. My husband, an Obama supporter, won't talk to me about politics; he's been burned by too many references to "Hope Floats," the 1998 Sandra Bullock vehicle.

But I was drawn in by Sarah Palin's appearance at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night. Not because the woman knows how to give a speech--and she really, really knows how to give a speech. But that's just good theater; I found myself feeling emotional when she talked about children with special needs, and especially when the camera panned to her four-month-old Down syndrome baby sleeping in his daddy's arms. I realized I've been scanning the Palin coverage all along for mentions of her child. I've cared much more about how the baby's doing and how the family is dealing with that extraordinary challenge than the fact that her teen-age daughter got pregnant. When The New York Times ran a photo of the teen daughter holding Palin's four-month-old, I zoomed in on the little bean.

I've got my reasons. Ten months ago I gave birth, for the first time, to identical twin boys. A political reporter for NEWSWEEK, I'm now on a yearlong maternity leave. Every woman who's been pregnant has had to think about what she would do if she found out she was carrying a baby with Down syndrome. A lot of us agonize over whether to risk a miscarriage to find out with an amnio. When blood work showed that I had an elevated risk for having two children with Down syndrome (since identical twins have the same DNA, both babies would have the same condition), we went ahead with the genetic test. We put it off for weeks, second-guessing ourselves until the needle went in. The result showed that I was very lucky. I can't know for sure what I would have wanted to do had our fate been different. So for people like Sarah Palin, I have great admiration.

As the camera focused on that little guy in the stands, I felt an unfamiliar stirring. Then the mom in me kicked in. What's a four-month-old, I wondered, doing out late at night in a hall filled with hoards of screamers? For all the sanctimonious applause for Palin's pledge to be an advocate for special needs-children, no one seemed bothered by the fact that the little guy was being used as a prop to motivate voters. (I hate listening to mothers judge other mothers. I'd rather just listen to my own scornful internal monologue.)

But regardless of how unpleasant the evening may have been for little Trig, his appearance was worth at least a few thousand votes in socially conservative southeastern Ohio. That's why he was there. Certainly, if McCain is elected, he will owe Palin's littlest a thank you. To think I'd gotten sucked in! Now that I'm back in my old killjoy skin, I find I'm still applauding. The campaign's image-making Wednesday night takes a certain political brilliance-the kind only a cynic can appreciate.