It’s fascinating to see how the Religious Right has latched onto Sarah Palin, John McCain’s surprise choice as a vice-presidential running mate, as a heroine of their favored “family values.”

They needed a heroine, because it’s hard for them to brag about McCain, who left the faithful but disabled wife who stood by him while he was a POW and married a beer company heiress, then proved unfaithful to her. The fact that the number of ritzy homes that McCain has trouble recalling were paid for largely from the sale of beer doesn’t appear to bother the family values crowd, although alcoholism wrecks families right and left.

Palin has no national political experience, but she does have five children and was lauded by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in April when it became known that her fifth child had Down’s Syndrome and Palin chose to have the child rather than terminate the pregnancy.

The ERLC’s Richard Land and other spokespersons for the Religious Right have really been squeezing the lemons to make lemonade from the potentially troublesome news that Palin’s unmarried teenage daughter is five months pregnant. Any issues of immorality or the apparent failure of “abstinence only” sex education were completely drowned out by an avalanche of support for the daughter’s decision to carry the baby to term, and her professed intention to marry her boyfriend.

Land, in fact, used the case as an opportunity to bash pro-choice supporters in a statement: “This is the pro-life choice. The fact that people will criticize her for this shows the astounding extent to which the secular critics of the pro-life movement just don’t get it,” Land said in a statement.

For Republicans, McCain’s unlikely choice has proved a boon because, with the dismal economic and world affairs failures of the Bush administration, they have no administrative legacy to run on, and thus are reverting to the tired but effective strategy of turning the campaign into a culture war.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are both stalwart family men who have enjoyed decades-long marriages, but they don’t hold the Religious Right’s preferred positions on abortion and gay marriage, the favored bunker-busting bombs employed by the Right in culture warfare.

I don’t write this to criticize Palin or her daughter. But, when those who demonstrate family faithfulness are painted as the bad guys in the “family values” portrait, something’s wrong with that picture.

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