A Thought Experiment

Suppose that social conservatives hadn't rallied around the Palin family after news of Bristol Palin's pregnancy broke. Suppose James Dobson had taken to the airwaves to denounce, say, "permissive parenting" and "teenage promiscuity," and that a host of religious-right pooh-bahs had joined him. Suppose that Rick Warren had remarked to reporters that of course, abortion was a terrible thing, but teenage pregnancy was just as bad or worse. Suppose further that the Palins then decided to immediately ship Bristol back up to Alaska, to hide out, far from the media, until her disgraceful pregnancy was carried to term, and never mentioned their daughter in public during the campaign again. Do you imagine for a moment that we'd be reading liberal essayists opining about how impressive it was that social conservatives were willing to put the good of the American family above their pro-life absolutism? About what a relief it was to see to that the family-values crowd still cared about values besides the importance of not having an abortion?

Of course not. If anything remotely like this had happened, all we'd hear is satisfied chirping about how the response to Bristol Palin's pregnancy proves, once and for all, that social conservatives don't give two figs about the rights of the unborn; what they really care about is controlling women's sex lives and reinforcing patriarchal norms, full stop. Hence the weird anger emanating from social liberals at the religious right's failure to tar and feather the Palins and run them out of GOP politics on a rail: They're mad that religious conservatives aren't fitting neatly into the stereotypes that liberals have spent years cultivating.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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