by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ver the Labor Day weekend we learned that Sarah Palin did a Pinocchio number when she claimed to have stood up to that granddaddy of all earmarks and told the federal government just what they could do with that "Bridge to Nowhere." The truth is, for at least a year previous, she had publicly supported the bridge. She had urged the Congress to give Alaska that money. In the meantime, the Congress, under great pressure to do something, reduced the federal matching funds. It was only then, when Alaska faced having to actually pony up more of its own money, that the Palin decided to "stand tall" on the earmarks issues. And when she was mayor of Wasilla, she didn't hesitate to lobby for earmark dollars. Watch her nose begin to grow.

Well, as her supporters were scrambling to put a spin on this news, even more embarrassing news came to light. One Amy Gwinn (who would seem to be a solid citizen -- she is the director of agency relations for a St. Louis advertising firm, while her husband is director of the St. Louis Science Center) reports that she was in that beauty pageant with Palin and that she, not Palin, was chosen Miss Congeniality. And the nose grows ever longer.

We also learned that officials of the so-called Alaska Independence Party (a fringe group that urged that Alaska secede from the Union -- how's that for "Country First"?) say that for two years during the '90s, Sarah Palin was a member of their organization. As McCain's people -- who seem only now to be doing any vetting -- were out and about trying to plug yet another dike, up pops this MySpace page on which we meet Levi Johnston, the 18-year-old boyfriend who impregnated the Palin's then-16-year-old daughter. On his Web page, he writes: "I'm a f---in' redneck. I live to play hockey. I like to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing." He also warns that, "Ya f--- with me, I'll kick ass."


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & till, in a week full of them, my nomination for the Stupidest Line Award goes to none other than Cindy McCain, who, when asked by George Stephanopoulos about Palin's foreign policy background said that Russia's proximity to Alaska makes Governor Palin plenty experienced in foreign policy. You can't make this stuff up.

But the newest darling of the religious right, left on her own, is doing pretty darn well in the Amazingly Ignorant Award category, too. For example, a short time back she was asked if she wanted to be vice president. She said that she couldn't say one way or the other until she knew what the vice president did all day.

And it gets better: From an Eagle Forum Candidate Questionnaire:

Q: Are you offended by the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

Palin responds: "Not on your life. If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's good enough for me and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance."

Founding Fathers? The pledge was written by a Baptist minister in 1892, and wasn't adopted by the Congress until the 1940s. That "under God" phrase? It was added in 1954.

And then there's the investigation over the suspicious firing of the popular head of public safety in Alaska. Disclaimers aside, the investigation has progressed to the point where Palin went and got herself a lawyer. But other than a People magazine reporter, Palin has -- as of Tuesday -- not answered any questions from the national press corps.

And what's Barack Obama saying to all this?

I have heard some of the news on this and so let me be as clear as possible. I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics, it has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18. And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ure, we don't want to get in the middle of a family crisis, but it's entirely fair to ask a few related questions. After all, John McCain just up and parachuted in this woman, and we have only eight weeks to judge her readiness. So here goes: Assuming that "Mom" Palin isn't in favor of teenage promiscuity, why then does "Governor" Palin refuse to support sex education? And since "Governor" Palin is trying to parlay her personal story, isn't it fair to ask "Mom" Palin how she thinks it's a good idea to be out and about every day on the campaign trail when she has a 4-month-old Down syndrome infant to care for? Or is that a job for her pregnant, 17-year-old daughter?

These questions seem to mount by the minute, moving from the details of this Alaskan family's life to the bigger picture and worries about her readiness and McCain's judgment in shoving her into a limelight she may not have been ready for. The Republicans have been thrown so far off message over this, they're left to hope for acts of God to interrupt the scrutiny.

By the time you read this, Sarah Palin may already be out as the vice presidential pick. But if she's still on the McCain ticket -- and if McCain seriously wants to win the White House -- she's got a lot of explaining to do.

Invention Connection @ Spark Central

Fri., Feb. 3, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
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