ST. PAUL How mean, how low can a partisan stoop? Mean enough to humiliate a 17-year-old girl at the time she needs sympathy and understanding. Low enough to bruise the broken heart of a girl's mother and to mock a father's affection.
Within minutes after John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate, the blog sites on the sleaziest margins of the Democratic left went to work on the deconstruction of the lady of the far north - fair enough, if kept within the bounds of minimum dignity and modest decency.
Politics, after all, is a contact sport. The governor was too young, too inexperienced and, most unbearable of all, she was the woman who might be vice president and she wasn't Hillary.
But resentment boiled into rage when the left learned that not only did Mrs. Palin oppose abortion as a matter of conscience, but she had chosen to spurn abortion herself to give life to a child with Down syndrome. Doesn't she know that abortion is a civil right of passage for every woman, to be cherished like her first diamond or her first string of pearls?
Arianna Huffington, the Cruella von Venom of the Web, unleashed her bloggers. One bemoaned Mrs. Palin's lost opportunity to rid herself of the inconvenience of an afflicted child; another, the former director of Washington's dear little Institute for Policy Studies, the sheltered workshop of the last seven Marxists in America, declaimed that Cruella and her friends owe it to the world to rescue survivors of the conservative crackup and re-create the Republican Party in their image.
But this was only Internet static. The subject deserved something more than the tedious blather and buncombe of bloggers. CNN's John Roberts, not heretofore known as the successor to Dr. Spock, suggested that Mrs. Palin's duties as vice president would prevent her tendering proper care to a child with Down syndrome. Alan Colmes, soft in the head from the relentless pummeling he has taken from Sean Hannity since he apparently gave up a medical practice to join Fox News, suggested that Mrs. Palin damaged her child with cut-rate prenatal care. (One physician chimed in that if Alan thinks that, he must have cut a few of his classes at La La Land School of Medicine.)
Then, over the weekend, Daily Kos, which had faded from notice after the collapse of the Dennis Kucinich candidacy, came up with the remarkably unlikely story that Mrs. Palin was not actually the mother of the baby, now four months old. Her 17-year-old daughter was; Mrs. Palin was not a new mother, but a new grandmother. The only evidence offered was a photograph of the daughter with a little "bump" in her midriff.
"Sarah Palin is NOT the mother," the Kos blog screamed. "Sarah, I'm calling you a liar. And not even a good one. Trig Paxon Van Palin is not your son. He is your grandson. The sooner you come forward with this revelation to the public, the better."
The blogger did not identify himself, nor explain how he acquired the knowledge of the most intimate secrets of the Palin boudoir. He appended a photograph of the young woman, her family and "the bump," together with the commentary of a particularly dirty old man.
The photograph, it turns out, was real enough, published in the Anchorage Daily News two years ago. Baby Trig was born in April of this year. Mrs. Palin, forced to correct the garbled gossip, announced Monday that her daughter is, coincidentally, indeed pregnant now, and will marry the father.
This episode enrages the conscience of decent men and women. In a more robust time and place, the father of Baby Trig would have waited on Mr. Kos with a horsewhip, to teach him that the public humiliation of innocent young women is not tolerated by decent men. (Arianna might deserve a spanking, too, but finding someone to do it could be difficult.) Barack Obama late Monday put the outrage in polite language.
"I have said it before, and I will repeat again," he said, "People's families are off-limits. And people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know, my mother had me when she was 18 and how a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn't be a topic of our politics."
The rest of us can only mourn for who we once were, and grieve for how we came to this.