Levi Johnston: Victim in the Spotlight?

As amusing and ironic as the Sarah Palin family circus may
seem to gleeful liberals, there is something sad about it too. How many
lives have been ruined by the kind of high-minded, impractical approach to sex that
Sarah Palin’s party pushed on the country, an approach that failed her own

The Internet is buzzing over Levi Johnston’s appearance on
Tyra yesterday to "break his silence," and providing us all with a
reminder that patriarchal policies like abstinence-only education hurt young
men, too. Bill Maher jokingly tried to hawk "Free Levi" paraphernalia
on his show during the original Bristol-Levi news cycle. It was silly, but it
has rung increasingly true. Both Bristol and Levi were victims. Neither Bristol
nor Levi had much in the way of agency: they were paraded on the floor
of the Republican National Convention like the crown prince and princess of
promiscuous teenagers taking their lumps. 

Now both of their renegade media appearances seem like an
attempt to wrest back some control over their own lives. 
Levi’s woeful, confused face throughout the entire Tyra show, combined
with Bristol’s media appearances, in which she’s said she wished this had all
happened ten years down the road and that "abstinence isn’t realistic" have revealed
that their relationship was hardly the paragon of keeping-the-baby "family
values" that the Palin campaign pretended.  First of all, the two of them didn’t make one
momentary mistake. They were having sex on the regular, a fact of which Sarah Palin
may have been aware: "I’m pretty sure she probably knew," Levi told
Banks.  They were also using protection
"most of the time" in Levi’s words, after being pressed repeatedly by

Now that the baby is born and the rosy glow of their teenage
love affair has faded, there’s a rift between the families and everyone looks
miserable and accusatory. According to Levi’s family, it partially stems from a
frost between Bristol and Levi’s sister Mercede. Mercede, it would seem, still
hangs around with Levi’s exes, a fact which Bristol does not appreciate. This
has made it harder for Levi to spend time with his son. In fact, the Johnstons,
feeling shut out of baby Tripp’s life, might sue for joint custody! Add in
Levi’s regret over his engagement-ring tattoo and you can cue up the obligatory
Jerry Springer joke. 

Except this isn’t even a Springer-worthy tale. Instead, is a
fairly typical small-time drama that’s simply been exploited several times over
and made worse – first by a culture that didn’t arm the teens with the information
they needed, then by the Republican party, then by a maelstrom of TV and news

Bristol, a politician’s daughter, seems to have a burgeoning
pose and knowledge of the impact of her words. But Levi seems most interested
in making sure people don’t spread rumors about his family and he gets to see
his child more often. Politics seem to hold little sway over his life. Levi
described to Banks how intensely overwhelmed he was during his appearance at
the Republican National Convention and seemed puzzled when Banks asked him
about Sarah Palin’s championing of abstinence-only policies. He didn’t seem to
know much of what she was talking about. 
For Levi, the lofty rhetoric of politicians urging purity and abstinence
and old-school values clearly means far less than the day-to-day realities of
his life, which at the moment consist of his sister and ex-girlfriend sparring
with each other, his relationship with his son in the crossfires. 

It shouldn’t be shocking that teenagers – parents or not – are
acting cliquey and telling tales about each other. It shouldn’t be
shocking that they are having sex either. It’s all fairly natural behavior for
the age, whether the 18 year olds are freshmen at an Ivy League campus or
living in a small town in Alaska. 

It’s natural for teenagers to get tattoos that they’ll
erase, swear to love their partners forever and then break up with them, and do
things before they’re ready. That’s why the more information we give them, the
better, why things like emergency contraception, counseling, and comprehensive
education are so vital. 

But Palin’s party and Palin’s rhetoric whitewash this
reality.  It’s not natural that teenagers should be held up – forced – to appear to be
something they’re not, models of sexual self-control without sexual
information, example of marriage as a face-saving necessity rather than a
choice made out of love. But that’s what happened to these two. 

Sarah Palin has been complaining bitterly in public
statements about Johnston’s appearance on Tyra being exploitative. But she
exploited both him and her own daughter first. And we shouldn’t put the blame
squarely on Palin’s feet, either: her husband, her family, and the entire
Republican party joyfully assented to using these teenagers as poster-children
for a failed movement and joyfully assented to using them despite their clear
ignorance and inexperience. They’ve created a monster in this story, and now
they will have to live with the destruction it wreaks, doubtless leaving a
trail of havoc through more daytime talk shows and possibly even a courtroom
drama. It’s funny, but it’s also terribly sad.

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 press@rhrealitycheck.org.

Follow Sarah Seltzer on twitter: @sarahmseltzer

  • invalid-0

    Yes, the saga of these teenagers is typical. What’s truly bizarre is Palin’s latest statement about it.

    A middle-aged Governor using a PR Rep. and official stationary, issuing a press release to People Magazine, to publicly attack a teenager: the father of her own grandson no less.

    A normal person would have had talked to Levi privately.

  • invalid-0

    You people are ridiculous. News flash, all teenage relationship end in drama. Levi and his family are just trying to gain fame and stay in the spotlight. The only way they can do this is to join the band wagon of the anti-Sarah club. I’m sorry but I find you people sad. I’m sorry Bristol didn’t have an abortion. I’m sorry that she wanted to take responsibility for her mistake. Maybe if your parents would have done the same thing with you all then we wouldn’t have all these liberal idiots running all over congress and the White house. Then the United States wouldn’t be in all this trouble. Humm…maybe I am pro-choice now!!!
    There is are a whole lot more issues going on in this country, then what some teenager and his mother think about the Palin’s. Maybe, if you liberals spend more time focusing on the welfare of our country then trying to cut down the poor Palin family, then maybe our Country would be stronger and heading in the right direction. How about focusing on the real issues instead of attacking people and their personal lives!

  • invalid-0

    if Levi wasn’t just perfect for Sarah Palin as a puppet.
    Take him out and parade him in front of big crowds, overwhelm him with the bright lights, etc. etc.
    I do feel a bit sorry for him- as he really didn’t seem to be aware of the extent of Sarah Palin’s “abstinence only” message and was confused as any mother would more than likely be well aware of what those two were getting up to in Bristol’s bedroom (NOT studying I can assure you).
    I don’t feel that the Palin’s have anyone’s best interests in mind- especially Levi & Bristol’s baby. That baby is a tool to hold of the heads of people that Sarah Palin deems morally insufficient- much like Tripp.
    The Palins have all the hallmarks of a crime family in place.
    I certainly hope that a majority of right thinking Alaskans kick their pathetic game playing butts out of public office and put them in a supervisors of a public pool or somewhere where they can’t do much harm.

  • invalid-0

    I wish The Palins’s will be voted out of office as soon as the polls open! She alone has tried to do enough damage,not only to women, but the enviroment! Can’t wait till I do not have to hear about them anymore.I really feel for the baby’s father,I have a feeling he has a fight on his hands to see the baby.Sarah doesn’t play fair and they don’t have them money to fight her! Good Luck!Hope it doesn’t come to that!

  • invalid-0

    I understand that you have strong beliefs and those beliefs are more conservative that others. That’s one of the great things about this county. People can engage in conversation and debate it when they look at it differently. However, when the comments drop down to the name calling – putdown level, any chance of learning something of another point of view diminishes. I am one of people you call “ridiculous” because I am liberal. When I read the tinge of anger in your entry, I felt that what you were trying to say was lost in the personal judgements against people you know nothing about.
    I hope we can get past the name calling, the “them vs us”, the “I’m right and they’re crazy” was we operate. I could have learned a bit more about your point of view but the lack of common courtesy removed the opportunity. If you want to spend time critizing and calling people names, journalling is a great outlet for it. If you want to help people understand how you think about issues, using less judgement and name calling will help.

    I am sorry to rant, but I am so tired of attitudes that don’t allow for dialogue and posts that are nasty and intentionally mean.

  • invalid-0

    What was very disturbing about the Tyra Banks interview was the dismissive attitude that was displayed towards a birth mother. Through out the interview the father’s mother and the sister acted as though the birth of the child was about them. They failed to acknowledge, and they were never called on it, that someone else gave birth to that child, which was preceded by a pregnancy. Basically, neither one of them have a comparable interest with the mother. And while the father certainly has a valid claim to paternal rights, even he does not have a comparable interest with the mother; a very politically incorrect, but true statement.

    Reproductive rights for women are not just for women who choose abortion and birth-control; those rights also extend to women who choose birth. Their rights should not be disregarded in any forum.