Does Sarah Palin's husband give dads a new voice?

By drafting Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential pick, John McCain could make history with a long-overlooked, long-suffering constituency standing ready to take its place in the highest realms of American power.

I'm speaking, of course, about fathers who are the primary parents on domestic duty.

Sarah Palin's husband Todd is many other things, of course.

Descendent of Eskimos, champion snowmobiler, commercial fisherman, oil field worker, former member of the Alaskan Independence Party – the governor's husband lends the Republican ticket an array of rugged, exotic, manly-man qualities.

None, however, has proven to be as important for Republicans over the past week than Todd Palin's role as primary parent.

Overnight, social conservatives more accustomed to railing against attacks on the "Ozzie and Harriet" family model found themselves trumpeting the virtues of stay-at-home-dads, or as they're more colloquially known SAHDs.

Thus we had the unlikely picture of McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds, touting "the first dude's" knack for childcare and gifts in the domestic arts.

And we saw The Todd himself standing on the Convention stage, cradling his new baby with a burp cloth and looking for all the world like one of those soft, semi-employed Blue Staters who isn't afraid to strap on a Baby Bjorn or whip out a recipe for strained peas at the neighborhood "Mommy-and-Me" group.

As odd as this tableau may seem, the truth is Republicans had no real choice but to elevate Todd to his new position as King of the SAHDs even if that status is unclear as Palin reportedly spends summers as a commercial fisherman and works for BP parttime in the oilfields.

That's because with 5 children, including a newborn with special needs and a pregnant teenager, Sarah Palin has as full a plate as any working mom – and that's without the added burdens of acting as McCain's political pit-bull, or if the campaign is successful, doing all those things vice presidents do.

Welcome to today's family
Still, within hours of her appointment, critics began openly questioning the values of a mom who would choose to leave the kids with pop while she spends late nights at the office lobbying for offshore oil drilling and the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Needless to say, few ever raise this point about men – politicians from founding father John Adams to John Kennedy campaigned and governed while raising small children.

Raising that objection to Palin's nomination was offered by no less than thrice-married, adulterous father of two Rudy Giuliani as a sexist double standard.

Never mind that Democrats generally defend the rights of working mothers while the harshest criticism has come from within the conservative ranks.

Laura Schlessinger, the radio personality known as "Dr. Laura," questioned this week "what kind of role model" Palin presented to the American electorate.

"If a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you're on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where's your attention going to be?" she wrote.

"I'm stunned to find out the Republicans couldn't find one competent female with grown children."

Palin herself presents her family as a unique qualification for office, saying that raising five kids has given her experience that will prove invaluable in the new administration.

One can only imagine her threatening Vladimir Putin with a time out or arranging a carpool for the Congressional caucus.

I, myself, am a SAHD, being the primary parent of three small children and the husband of a busy working mother. And while I have plenty of reservations about Palin's qualifications, I don't begrudge her for balancing the demands of work and family.

I might even suggest that my three children qualify me for a Supreme Court position, or at least a spot on the cabinet.

The point is that those who pick on Sarah the working mom or Todd the SAHD only show how far removed they are from the realities of modern family life.

According to government figures, nearly two-thirds of American mothers with preschool-aged kids held full or part-time jobs in 2003. Meanwhile, a full 20% of all families include fathers who act as primary caregivers.

So while Palin's family may cause conniptions among conservatives, I, for one, am happy the party faithful have welcomed Todd the SAHD as one of their own. Lord knows it's a hard job. We need all the support we can get.

So I'm with you all the way Todd. Drop by sometime for a play date – I'll listen to your snowmobile stories if you hear me out about universal child care and paternity leave.

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