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Originally published September 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 5, 2008 at 12:30 AM

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Kate Riley / Times staff columnist

Gov. Sarah Palin and the Mommy Wars

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is being judged by a harsher standard because she is a mother and not a father. That is disappointing in the year that Sen. Hillary Clinton put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling.

Times associate editorial page Editor

Welcome back to the Mommy Wars.

I've been watching with mixed emotions the sniping criticism about vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's mothering skills. This 44-year-old Alaska governor has been criticized by everyone from Washington Post writer and Georgetown doyenne Sally Quinn on the left to talk-show pit bull Dr. Laura on the right for having the nerve to actually think she can be a good mother and run for vice president.

Talk about out-of-touch — and how far we have not come.

For the moment, let's set aside questions about Palin's qualifications and troubling positions on some issues and stipulate this social conservative is no substitute for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on a presidential ticket. Still, I'm appalled at how some commentators are holding Palin to a different standard because she is a mother instead of a father.

Take for example Quinn's astonishing Aug. 29 column. She plays the "3 a.m." card to disqualify this feisty mother of five children, including an infant with Down syndrome and a 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant.

"Her first priority has to be her children," Quinn writes. "When the phone rings at three in the morning, and one of her children is really sick, what choice will she make?"

In a CBS interview, Quinn talked about the huge time demands required in raising her own "learning disabled" son and how she had to work part time.

Funny, but Quinn doesn't wonder one whit what Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would do if his children were sick and the Russians were digging into Georgia again. Not a word about vice presidential candidate Joe Biden's 1972 decision as a newly elected senator to take office while his two sons were undergoing a lengthy recovery after a car accident that took the lives of their mother and sister.

And why should she? I'm confident Obama now and Biden then have the character to make sure their families are well cared for — even if it requires other people's help. After all, it takes a village to raise a child, to quote Clinton, who counts all of daughter Chelsea's childhood as among the 35 years she's been in public service.

But there is a galling difference for Quinn: "A mother's role is different from a father's."

Well, biologically, true. But Quinn's parenting views are sadly out of date. Her husband, former Post editor Benjamin Bradlee, might not have been a full partner in the nurturing end of parenting, but today, many men are all over it.

Since my son was born 11 years ago, my husband and I have been tag-team parents, although the boy thinks his dad is cooler. To minimize our baby's hours in day care, my sports writer husband cared for him in the mornings and I took over in the evenings.

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Now, when my son, who also has developmental disabilities, is upset, he comes to the parent who is closest to him — in proximity — because he is close to both of us.

The Washington congressional delegation's lone working mother of a young child is incredulous when it comes to Quinn's view.

"The whole question is absurd," U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers said by phone from the GOP National Convention. She is struck by the irony of criticisms of Palin's mothering in this, of all years.

The Kettle Falls Republican is co-chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus, which is celebrating the group's 30th anniversary, a record number of women members of the House (75 of 435), the first woman Speaker of the House, and Clinton's historic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

McMorris Rogers was born 30 years after the 67-year-old Quinn and was the first sitting member of Congress to give birth. Earlier this year, the congresswoman celebrated the first birthday of her son, Cole, who was born with Down syndrome, by co-founding the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus with Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

Like all working mothers — excuse me, working parents — McMorris Rogers makes her life work with help.

"It's my husband, Cole's father, who watches out for him during the day," she said of husband, Brian Rogers, a retired Navy commander. "The [modern] family might look a little different than it did 50 or 60 years ago. That needs to be recognized."

Just because parenting roles once clearly defined are increasingly blurred or even reversed doesn't mean the family doesn't work.

In the year when Clinton made those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, we should not judge Palin's candidacy on her parenting by a harsher standard than we would that of the three men on the ticket.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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