"She's a witch, she's a mother . . ."

main willowWell, I think it's safe to say that the mainstream media are struggling with Sen. John McCain's pick for vice president. He clearly threw a curveball and they are working overtime to report more on Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. Writing about someone who hasn't attended Washington cocktail parties or has never even appeared a single time on "Meet the Press" can be difficult. Sometimes we see some mistakes. Far and away my favorite one was found on The New Republic's site in an essay written by the very respectable Alan Wolfe. The essay is really interesting and discusses what the Palin pick means for the supposedly in-play "evangelical" vote:

Sarah Palin named two of her children after witches, once took drugs, and refused to sign a bill forbidding domestic benefits for gay couples. Any one of these--especially the first--would raise suspicion in the eyes of a traditional Southern Baptist. But for the governor of a Western state, these are not only the kinds of things a conservative can do, they are also the kinds of things an evangelical can do. Palin, the gun-toting mom, has a libertarian streak in politics and a libertarian streak in religion. In neither case are they fully consistent; she seems to have a soft spot for creationism, for example, and no doubt she will profess support for the highly punitive Republican Party platform. But it is already clear that her style of evangelicalism is one shaped by the region of the country in which she lives.

Will any of this prevent Southern Baptists from voting for her? My guess is probably not, so long as she panders to them. But while Palin may be quickly endorsed by men speaking in Southern accents, she is neither a Billy Graham nor a Jimmy Carter. American evangelicalism, like John McCain, has many mansions. Sarah Palin inhabits only one of them.

The essay makes several good points (with inexplicably hostile language, but whatever) and I'm glad, as a libertarian, that someone is noticing Palin's libertarian streak. But read that first part again. Did she really name two of her children after witches? Hunh?

Apparently that "fact" came from someone you should be careful taking seriously: the once-interesting Andrew Sullivan. He alleged that the children were named after television show witches based on, um, reader email. Never mind that the dates don't match up.

Leave it to a gossip magazine -- People -- to resort to old-style reporting tactics and simply ask the Palins why they named their children the way they did:

Where do your children's names come from? TODD: Sarah's parents were coaches and the whole family was involved in track and I was an athlete in high school, so with our first-born, I was, like, 'Track!' Bristol is named after Bristol Bay. That's where I grew up, that's where we commercial fish. Willow is a community there in Alaska. And then Piper, you know, there's just not too many Pipers out there and it's a cool name. And Trig is a Norse name for "strength."

So, not witches. Before this meme gets too carried away, it would be good for reporters to remember to get their facts straight. Alan Wolfe makes some interesting points in the type of piece that adds context to the race, but he undercuts them by playing fast and loose with the facts.

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