Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Anatomy of a Rumor: Down Syndrome and the Palins

Out of a sense of decency, Sen. Barack Obama has said that the children of politicians should not be hauled into the bloody political ring, even when they embarrass their parents, as children will sometimes do. It is a solid rule to follow: The sins of the children, provided they have reached the age of reason, should not be visited upon their parents – even when their parents are politicians.

These glad tidings have not reached some of Obama’s supporters.

Immediately after Sen. John McCain announced that he had chosen Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin to be his Vice President on the Republican Party ticket, rumors began to fly. Progressive blog sites not kindly disposed to Republicans – DailyKos, www.barackoblogger.com, The Huffington Post, some in the mainstream media and their local echo chambers – sniffed out a rumor, since shown to be false, that the mother of Mrs. Palin’s newborn Down Syndrome child was her daughter.

No self respecting journalist would print such “news” on such slender evidence as was available at the time the rumor was launched by progressive take-no-enemy bloggers.

Pictures of Mrs. Palin’s daughter showing a possible pregnancy bump were brought forward to ignite the rumor. Pictures of Mrs. Palin were shown that did not suggest she was pregnant. That was the extent of the evidence upon which the rumor mongers built their case that the Down Syndrome child was conceived and born by Mrs. Palin’s daughter and not, as claimed, by Mrs. Palin. Of such wisps of smoke are hangman’s nooses woven.

No matter, the speculators were in full throttle days after the Republican VP candidate had appeared with Sen. McCain.

In pursuit of the false rumor, the rumor mongers bumped at last into a fact. This is the way it usually happens with those who wish to braid a rope of rumors with which they may hang their enemies.

In order to rebut rumors that Mrs. Palin falsely claimed to have born a child to protect her daughter, Mrs. Palin announced that her daughter – the self same daughter who was supposed to have delivered the Downs Syndrome child – is five months pregnant, thereby delighting Mrs. Palin’s enemies. Mrs. Palin’s enemies were not delighted because their suspicions about the birth were exploded when it was announced that Mrs. Palin’s daughter was pregnant. They did not say to each other, “Good thing that vicious rumor, that insubstantial wisp of smoke, has now dissipated.

Something else tickled them.

Over the weekend, Michael Moore, the documentarian, was full of joy at the prospect of Hurricane Gustav wrecking havoc on New Orleans because this would demonstrate that there is a God in Heaven who feels about Republicans, then having their convention near the upper Mississippi, as he does. But Moore’s joy was nothing compared to the hearts that swelled with schadenfreude at the news that Mrs. Palin’s daughter was having a baby out of wedlock.

Why this joy?

Mrs. Palin is a supporter of abstinence as a means of birth control, and her daughter’s out of wedlock birth demonstrates beyond a doubt that abstinence, say the progressives, “does not work.”

Well now, if one does not practice abstinence, one cannot enjoy the fruits of abstinence. That seems simple enough. It’s quite obvious to anyone but the rope braiders that if a person enrolled in an abstinence program does not abstain from sex, they will incur the risks of pregnancy. Under such circumstances, it is not the program that has failed but the person who has not abstained that has failed.

The same would hold true in any birth control program. We do not say of those who have failed to use birth control methods when available that they have become pregnant because the methods “do not work.” They work when they are used and do not work when they are not used. In the same way, abstinence works when it is practiced, and it does not work when it is not practiced. The user failure rate for abstinence is, according to one reliable study, between 26 and 86 percent, somewhat higher but not significantly different than than the condom user failure rate falling between 12 and 70 percent. Abstinence is more complex and involves “negotiating skills” that are often poorly taught.

The “happy ending” to the Palin story is that the baby will live in a traditional setting with married parents. And that beats abortion, the real measure of failure in birth control processes..

Someone should tell the schadenfreuders.
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