Politics & Policy

Naked in the Naked Public Square

Carrie Prejean in Carrie Bradshaw's America.

We both worried when Miss California showed up at a press conference for our friends at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). It was hard to believe the gay-marriage proponents would let this brave young woman get away with her free exercise of free speech without some serious retribution. Already, as a NOM commercial on the Prejean incident was released, a story about her implants was leaked. And, of course, that was only the beginning of the character assassination to come. 

Watch carefully. This is what happens when people take a position against gay marriage — a view that the majority of the population supports, according to a new CNN poll. 

The latest on Carrie Prejean is that she evidently posed semi-topless for a lingerie commercial when she was 17 (a little over four years ago); those photos have been anonymously released to embarrass her and attempt to remove her title of Miss California-USA.

This may be a dream come true for some of the most radical opponents of her position on gay marriage. They live to cry, “Hypocrisy!” Never mind that a co-director and a lead spokeswoman of the Miss California pageant is a former Playboy Playmate; Prejean evidently signed a release saying she never posed for nude or semi-nude photographs and so this — or other photos — may strip her of her title. 

First, note what the movement of tolerance does when you simply exercise your rights to free speech, taking a position they disagree with. They go personal. They go for the jugular. They try to embarrass and humiliate you. They will stop at nothing not only to discredit but absolutely destroy you. Until Prejean, the best example we had was probably Gov. Sarah Palin. A pro-life, pro-military mother and governor could not have a zone of privacy in the counter-culture, or a zone of fairness either. But she is the governor of a state and arguably knew what she was getting into, so note what the movement is now doing to a 21-year-old: It’s personal destruction.

Those who advocate gay marriage and responsible dialogue and debate ought to take a stand against this kind of scorched-earth politics. The strategy of demonizing individuals only serves to underscore the encroachments on religious liberties that have been integral to the gay-marriage movement’s policy successes in state after state. Can’t they do better? They seek respect. Can’t they realize that all people deserve respect in the marketplace of ideas?

But back to Carrie Prejean: It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, but where are our protective instincts? Mercifully, she seems to have faith, but when you’re dating Michael Phelps on again and off again, you probably don’t have the best support system walking into a vicious national debate. One wonders where her adult supervision is. Twenty-one-year-olds will make mistakes, as will 17-year-olds. But that lingerie photo was especially unnecessary, inappropriate, and revealing in a much larger sense. Some adult should have helped her stand up to that job, as she clearly had the courage to stand up to Perez Hilton and the bullies who didn’t want her to speak her mind on marriage. No teenager should be appearing topless in lingerie ads. Over and over again we see how children are oversexualized. Sexting? Where are the parents? Is no one around as kids are taking the compromising photos and sending them around over their cell phones? They are taking the photos somewhere, under someone’s roof. Someone is paying the cell-phone bills. 

They may tell you they’re adults, but they’re not, and they need you. 

Carrie Prejean’s situation is a little different from the average 21-year-old’s, but not that much. Today, things kids do without thinking can have a lasting impact. Do you know what your teen or college student’s Facebook page looks like? Does he realize that, if he’s not careful, his first job may suffer death-by-Google before it even starts?

But it’s not just watching the Internet trail. We are on the precipice of a new teen culture of hyper-sexualization. One report last year found that one in four teens has a sexually transmitted disease. Teen pregnancy is on the rise, up to approximately 750,000 a year. What we do now can determine the future here — whether numbers decrease or explode. What you do as a teen can have a lasting impact, just as what adults say and do about it can.

Bristol Palin, a young mother now, knows about choices that stay with you. This week, it was announced that she will be a teen-pregnancy prevention “ambassador.” She already is one, and she really doesn’t need this added responsibility. She’s working for the Candie’s Foundation, which has, as the first bullet point in its mission statement, the following: “Be Sexy: It Doesn’t Mean You Have to Have Sex.” This, of course, is not the right message. With hormones running wild, teens do not need to be encouraged to be sexy, with or without abstinence. This is not helpful — probably especially for young Bristol. 

Bristol Palin does not need to be an advocate of anything. She’s a girl who has made mistakes that have been that much harder because she was hoisted into the public square as the consequences of those mistakes could not be hidden. She has enough adult responsibilities now. Among them should be taking care of her child, finishing high school, and staying away from the cameras where she says things like abstinence is “not realistic.” Let the girl live in peace and not be a poster girl for anything. 

It’s a mean, naked public square, especially when your life is exposed — or you are, literally, as in the case of Carrie Prejean. Instead of casting Carrie and Bristol in the hot, grueling lights of public scrutiny, how about taking a step back and dialing back the sexy? How about bringing the adults to the forefront? How about having debates rather than full-court feeding frenzies on people’s personal lives?

Decency is what’s lacking in all of these and so many other news stories: decency in the lives of children; decency in the examples of their parents, giving them the tools to protect themselves from an indecent world; decency in speech and debate. 

– Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute. Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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