VIDEO: Bristol Palin’s Voice, Choice and the Spin-Cycle: Olbermann and Flanders Teeter Along a Fine Line

Bristol Palin has guts.

Thrown, literally, into the national spotlight with a teen pregnancy by a mother driven by outsized ambition, Bristol was never really protected by the "children are off-limits" zone of privacy that we, often with uneven success, are supposed to provide to the kids of candidates for political office.

But she asserted her own political voice first in a press release in December, and more recently, and much more clearly, in the recent interview she gave to Fox News.  In that interview, she walks the tightrope of the never-ending political firestorm on "choice."  She chose to have sex, she got pregnant, she chose to bring the pregnancy to term and to have a child.  These were her choices.  She is pretty clear about that.  No two ways about. She says it was her choice to have her baby.  And I believe her.  She is very real.

More so because she does not make this into some ridiculous battle between "life" and "choice"–as her mother and countless politicians have done.  Instead, she speaks practically–in fact, in a way that is strikingly down to earth and "no-bullshit politics here"–about her wish that she had not had a baby so soon, that she had done things differently, and, in fact, she underscores in her own way that teens need to be able to make good choices based on realistic assumptions and accurate information because, as she says, and as all the evidence shows, "abstinence-only" is "not realistic."

Which is why I felt a bit protective of her watching a video by Keith Olbermann and Laura Flanders from last night.  Keith and Laura are right on when they critique the political debates and the politicians–including grandmother Sarah Palin herself–for promoting policies for their own political gain–that leave teens and adults without choices, and that pour money into ineffective programs.

I admire the work of both Olbermann and Flanders.  And think they are right when they focus on critiquing leaders of the abstinence-only agenda.  In the segment, titled "We love choice as long as you make the choice we love," Flanders correctly points to the "grand old hypocrisy party phenomenon playing out here.  One rule for us and one rule for everybody else." 

They also rightly point out the ironies inherent in the fact that Bristol had choices to exercise, and she firmly underscores that she indeed made them, but that her mother, for political gain, supports policies that would deny to others "exactly the kind of choice" Bristol had, i.e. whether to bring this pregnancy to term.  "[T]his is a person, Sarah Palin," says Flanders,

who believes in criminalizing abortion, no matter what, no exceptions, except for the health or life of the mother, the woman or the girl.  No exceptions for the incest kid, no exception for the survivor of rape.  This stuff is sick and Bristol knows it.

But where I draw the line is where we start ascribing meaning to Bristol’s stated experiences beyond their likely intent.  Flanders says, for example, that:

The scariest thing in that conversation with Greta Van Susteren was—well, I thought the scariest thing was the part where Bristol Palin said that talking with her mother was worse than labor.  I mean, I guess Katie Couric found that out.  Can any of us imagine what a Palin presidency would be like, like a Nadya Suleman labor? 

What unmarried 18-year-old would not find it difficult to tell their parents they were pregnant?  Let’s take these pieces of personal revelation at face value and recognize the profound bravery of a young woman, who did not ask to have her pregnancy broadcast throughout the world, but who has taken the step of speaking out for the benefit of others. 

Let’s not critique the human dimensions of this story for political gain.  I say keep them separate.

Likewise, we may need to find a way to find Bristol Palin the "political persona" separate from Sarah Palin Presidential wannabe.  Bristol lives in a political world, in a political family.  She has taken the step to make political statements.  Like almost every other child of leading politicians I have observed (from afar) they have their own lives, their own opinions and their own ways of addressing what may be a dichotomy between parent and parent-as-politician in their own family.

Bristol is forcing us to examine ourselves when we are in great need of examination.  She is saying "we all need to have choices and information, be realistic and be smart."  By definition, that bucks not only her mother’s political positions, but that of the entire ab-only, barefoot and pregnant industry.  But it also is personal.  There’s a very fine line.

Let’s let her give voice to her own experience without pitching it always in light of her mother.


Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Jodi Jacobson on twitter: @jljacobson

  • invalid-0

    What exactly does Bristol want to advocate for? Comprehensive sexuality education? Greater access to contraception for teens who choose to have sex? The freedom to make ones own decisions about an unintended pregnancy?

    Or does she simply want to say, “do as I say, don’t do as I do”. And, “It’s difficult to be a teen parent, but having a baby is ‘awesome'”.

    Sorry, I’m a little unclear on her message.

  • invalid-0

    I didn’t hear her say all the things you think she said. In fact, when asked why abstinence doesn’t work, she basically said she wasn’t going to talk about that. So, what is she really advocating? How is she actually being an advocate? I think she bought the abstinence arguement from her parents, but when her human hormones wanted a say, she bought what they were saying as well. Saying things without thinking? Sounds like her mother to me.

  • jodi-jacobson

    But she says clearly….”abstinence is not realistic; I am glad I have my baby, but I wish it had happened 10 years from now,” and so on.

    She said that she would like to work to reduce teen pregnancy.

    She stopped, and I don’t blame her, when Van Sustern asked her a question about her own use of contraception in her personal relationship with her boyfriend. She obviously did not, it is a personal question, she is an 18-year old whose pregnancy has been subject to all manner of assumptions about shot-gun weddings, and that her mother actually tried to claim Bristol’s baby was hers.

    I don’t claim to know that she is “becoming an advocate for comprehensive approaches,” and only time will tell on that. For now, she has done what i think is a courageous thing for an 18-year old in her position.

    let’s cut her a break, irrespective of her mother, who is in fact the politician and who for right now has declared her own positions clearly and whose stands are in fact valid to critique.

    If Bristol makes herself into a constant presence on TV, then we can start to dissect more what she is trying to convey. Right now, I would like to think it is an honest attempt by a teen who might not have been prepped for this to speak out on her own behalf.

    I realize I can well be proved wrong.