While it's exciting to have Alaska's popular governor on the Republican presidential ticket -- and a woman to boot -- Americans can't ignore how Sarah Palin might steer the country on divisive social issues.
Sarah Palin is asking Americans to elect a vice president who is an extreme social conservative. She opposes abortion rights. She favors the teaching of creationism. She preaches abstinence-only sex education. She is open to the possibility of banning books from public libraries. She opposes gay marriage. She personally opposes benefits for gay partners of public employees.
The big question is what she would do about these personal beliefs if she is elected vice president.
Part of Palin's appeal on the Republican presidential ticket is the expectation that she'll bring in evangelical Christians who agree with her socially conservative views.
As governor, her opinions on abortion, same-sex health benefits and the like have stayed in the background. All her campaign talk about social issues has not resulted in much action since she was elected. She may even be a disappointment to her conservative base.
She has rightly focused on ethics, oil taxes and gas pipeline legislation, all of which were pressing and complex issues when she took office.
But if she becomes vice president, Palin will have plenty of time and a national platform to promote measures that turn her personal stands on social issues into mandates for all Americans. Religious conservatives may insist that she do so.
Her past statements suggest she would.
"I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor's determination that the mother's life would end if the pregnancy continued, I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent's life." That was her response to the Eagle Forum Alaska's questionnaire during the 2006 campaign for governor.
This summer, Palin declined a request to include some anti-abortion bills on the agenda of a special session on the gas pipeline, but a spokeswoman for the governor said recently that discussion is ongoing on whether there should be a special session on abortion yet this year. Palin's views are more extreme than the beliefs of most Americans, a Pew Forum 2006 survey found. Even many of those who want to limit abortion, such as McCain himself, believe abortions should be allowed in the case of rape or incest.
ON SEX EDUCATION
The Eagle Forum asked the question, "Will you support funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?"
Palin's answer: "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support." While it's unclear what exactly she meant by "explicit" sex-ed programs -- perhaps the kind that don't discuss the differences in male and female anatomy? -- she gave a definitive "yes" to teaching "abstinence-until-marriage."
What's wrong with that?
It's not realistic to expect all teens to abstain from sex. They need to be taught how to protect themselves in the event they do engage in sex. While the U.S. government has been promoting abstinence-only sex ed, a national survey revealed the fact that one-fourth of teenage girls are infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease. One out of four. Far too many.
The question of teaching creation science in schools arose during a debate on public TV station KAKM in 2006. Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution.
"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
In a later interview, Palin said she would not push the state Board of Education to add creation-based alternatives to evolution to required curriculum. But, she said, "I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate."
ON BOOK BANNING
Evidence of Palin's views is not conclusive. But as Wasilla mayor in 1996, Palin asked the city librarian troubling questions. Her hometown paper, the Frontiersman, reported that year that Palin had asked the librarian three times whether she would agree to censor library books if the need arose.
No specific books were mentioned. Palin at the time said her questions were rhetorical, and about a department head "understanding and following administration agendas."
A few months later, Palin sent the librarian a letter telling her she was going to be fired. But after public support made it clear residents supported the librarian, Palin changed her mind.
ON SAME-SEX PARTNER BENEFITS
Palin complied with an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the state cannot discriminate by withholding health and retirement from same-sex partners of state employees. At the same time, Palin supported a statewide advisory vote calling for the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment banning the benefits. That vote was held, and Alaskans voted yes, but the amendment never passed the Legislature. She opposes same-sex marriage.
If elected, Palin can't be vice president just for Christian conservatives. She will be everyone's vice president -- one who espouses backward views on teaching creationism, an extreme position against abortion rights and a commitment to sex "education" that's proven not to work.
BOTTOM LINE: Sarah Palin's social views fall to the right of the American mainstream.