ST. PAUL, Minn. If conventions are supposed to be about message discipline and stagecraft, Republicans have been improv street theater to the Democrats' Broadway.
Every day has brought a brand new buzz and that was before the convention got started.
Republicans euphoric about vice presidential pick Sarah Palin hardly got to enjoy a news cycle before Hurricane Gustav stole headlines and resurrected the ghosts of Katrina. Then came the news that Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.
To say that this convention has gotten off to a jaw-dropping start would not be hyperbolic. While Democrats chant, "Yes we can," Republicans have been lip-syncing, "OMG."
There are, of course, other ways to view recent events and Republicans have rallied their best angels. Thus, Gustav wasn't so much an unwelcome interruption as an opportunity to demonstrate priorities: People matter more than agendas.
And so all eyes and resources turned to the Gulf Coast.
Bristol Palin, too, quickly became a humanizing symbol for reckoning and prioritizing. Most Republicans rolled up their sleeves the way families do when trouble comes. Such is life.
To social conservatives within the party, the Palin situation merely underscored the family's commitment to life. Bristol is marrying the father and life, indeed, goes on.
From some other quarters, the buzz hasn't been so uplifting. Some bloggers on the left initially suggested that Palin's baby, Trig, was really her grandson. Others have used what should be a private family matter to challenge Palin's preference for abstinence-only sex education.
A notable exception to the ugliness has been Barack Obama, who was both manly and gentlemanly in reiterating his position that candidates' families and especially their children are off-limits. Bravo. He also reminded Americans that his own mother gave birth to him when she was 18.
Politicizing Bristol Palin's pregnancy, though predictable, is nonetheless repugnant and has often been absurd. It may be darkly ironic that a governor-mother who opposes explicit sex ed has a pregnant daughter, but experienced parents know that what one instructs isn't always practiced by one's little darlings.
We try; we sometimes fail. There are no perfect families and most of us get a turn on the wheel of misfortune.
Were it not for the pain of a teenager who didn't deserve to be exposed and exploited, the left's hypocrisy in questioning Palin's qualifications to be vice president against the backdrop of her family's choices would be delicious. Instead, it leaves a bad taste.
Would anyone ever ask whether a male candidate was qualified for office because his daughter was pregnant?
Some also have questioned whether Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, can be both a mother and a vice president? These questions aren't coming from the right so often accused of wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen but from the left.
Did someone switch the Kool-Aid?
Palin is everything liberals have always purported to want for women freedom to choose, opportunities for both career and family, a shot at the top ranks of American political life. With five children and an impressive resume, Palin should be Miss July in the go-girl calendar.
There's just one hitch: She doesn't believe in abortion except to save a mother's life. That's hardcore, even for pro-life Republicans, most of whom allow for abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Women who won't budge on abortion have hit fast-forward in their heads and, given McCain's age, consider the risk too great that a President Palin would load the Supreme Court with pro-lifers who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Whether that is a realistic concern is debatable, but what's perfectly clear is that feminism today is not about advancing women, but only a certain kind of woman.
While we're exhausting irony, Palin would have been excoriated as a hypocrite had she or her daughter had abortions. That would have been legitimate and, probably, deal-breaking criticism. By choosing life, the Palins acted in accordance with their public positions and were ridiculed for their honesty.
There may yet be reasons to find Palin an unacceptable vice presidential choice, but making pro-life decisions shouldn't be among them. Her candidacy, meanwhile, has cast a bright light on the limitations of our old ideological templates.
Should Palin and McCain prevail come November, feminism can curtsy and treat herself to a hard-earned vacation. The greatest achievement of feminism won't be that a woman reached the vice presidency, but that a woman no longer needed feminists to get there.