Commentary: Moral hypocrisy's effect on Johnston, Palin

The Miami HeraldApril 14, 2009 

In a better world, you and I would never have heard of Levi Johnston.

That would be good for you and me – the campaign of 2008 produced few story lines more dreary than his fathering a child by Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol. But frankly, I think it would also be good for Johnston.

If you and I had never heard of him, his affair with Bristol Palin would have run its entirely predictable course – boy meets girl, boy impregnates girl, boy gets engaged to girl, boy breaks up with girl – and he would now be wrapped in the darkness of anonymity, working on his GED or talking to an Army recruiter or whatever it is you do to cobble together a life when you're a high school dropout and the future comes knocking.

Instead, there he was with his mother and sister on The Tyra Banks Show last week, painfully inarticulate and unpolished, about as unready for prime-time (or even daytime) as it gets, talking about how he moved in with the Palins when Bristol was pregnant (something the Palins deny), how they practiced safe sex "most of the time," how Bristol won't let their baby spend time at his house because she dislikes his sister for keeping company with his ex-girlfriends, how he's sure Bristol's mother knew her daughter was sexually active, how difficult it was breaking the news.

Mother Palin, clearly unamused by this flagrant show of too much information, issued a statement to People magazine that said in part: "We're disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration, and even distortion of their relationship. . . . It is unfortunate that Levi finds it more appealing to exploit his previous relationship with Bristol than to contribute to the well-being of the child. Bristol realizes now that she made a mistake in her relationship and is the one taking responsibility for their actions."

One imagines the governor's sleep troubled by visions of a calendar marked 2012 with flames licking at its edges.

Meantime, those loud groans of pleasure you hear would be a million liberals reaching simultaneous orgasm.

I get why they are pleased, why the Internet bristles with their condemnation and scorn. There are few things more entertaining than the hypocrisy of moralists, caught living Married With Children lives while preaching Leave It to Beaver virtues. And Gov. Palin, with her hard-right social views (including the naive belief that abstinence-only sex education will hold randy teens in check), certainly qualifies.

I even get why the Johnstons thought it would be a good idea (though it wasn't) to talk to Tyra Banks and, for that matter, why Levi went on Good Morning America last month to inform a waiting world that he and Bristol had broken up.

When you have lived under a political gag order as the Johnstons say they have, and you get a chance to speak up, how can you say No?

I get all that. Still, I find it hard to join in the fun. I keep thinking how manifestly unfair all this is to the two teenagers in the middle who, through no fault of their own, saw their sex life played out in national headlines, become fodder for pundits and punch-lines and swords for culture warriors, when they were, at the end of the day, just kids who made the same dumb mistake a million other kids have made.

You had to feel sorry for them, coached to within an inch of their lives by political handlers, sitting there at the GOP convention, clasping hands, projecting love and commitment when Lord only knows the fear and confusion they must have felt.

So forgive me, but I must – no pun intended – abstain. I do hope, however, that someone will reach Levi Johnston and give him a word of sorely needed advice. For our sake, but most of all for his, he needs to get his life back.

The first step: Shut up and go away.


Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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