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Bristol Backin’ Mama: Sarah Palin Targets Murphy Brown

In Commentaries on November 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) in 1992. (Photo by Richard Cartwright/CBS; courtesy USA Today)

Here we go again.

Sarah Palin is reviving the 18-year-old controversy over Murphy Brown’s decision to have a child out of wedlock.

In her new book America by Heart, Palin defends Dan Quayle’s criticism of the sitcom heroine, who chose to raise her son alone when the boy’s father left her.

Palin compares Murphy to her 20-year-old daughter Bristol, who gave birth to a son two years ago and then became a spokeswoman for teenage abstinence.

“Which is the more courageous course for a young, single mother: to sit down and shut up and avoid the critics, or to speak out in a painfully honest way about how tough single parenting is?” Palin writes.

“I’m biased, of course, but given a choice of role models between Bristol and Murphy Brown, I choose Bristol.”

It’s another half-baked idea from Alaska’s half-term governor.

I don’t object to Palin’s comparison of a real person to a sitcom character; during its heyday, Murphy Brown was seen in 17 million homes each week, so its potential to influence audiences shouldn’t be dismissed.

What I don’t understand is why Palin feels she must knock Murphy in order to praise Bristol.

A quick history lesson: Murphy – played by Candice Bergen – was a successful TV reporter who became pregnant in 1991 after a one-night stand with her ex-husband.

The pregnancy was a surprise, but Murphy embraced the idea of starting a family and was disappointed when her ex decided he didn’t want to become a father.

To its credit, the show didn’t glamorize single motherhood: At various points, Murphy’s career and personal life suffered as a result of her maternal obligations.

By the show’s final season, mother and son were managing the rhythms of frazzled family life: She made sure he remembered his homework each morning; he helped her keep track of her interviews with Washington bigwigs.

(This was a sitcom.)

What about Murphy’s life does Palin find so objectionable?

Make no mistake: By defending Murphy, I’m not denigrating Bristol – but their experiences are pretty different.

Bristol was 17 when she became pregnant by on-again/off-again boyfriend Levi Johnston.

She dropped out of school for awhile but eventually graduated and now appears on Dancing With the Stars.

Does this teach impressionable teenagers that having a child before graduation can lead to stardom?

Perhaps, but who are we to judge?

Maybe Bristol is simply making the most of her circumstances and socking away all that reality TV money to ensure her son has a comfortable life.

The bottom line: You can find virtue in Murphy and Bristol’s approaches to motherhood.

But that’s not what this is about, is it?

Sarah Palin could have found any number of ways to discuss “how tough single parenting is.”

By exhuming the divisive Murphy Brown debate, she’s once again using one of her children to pander to the pious.

It’s shameful.

If Palin wants to have a real conversation about moms and role models, she should start by setting a better example herself.

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