Who’s going to call Sarah Palin’s grandson “illegitimate”?

No one, I hope. And I hope that her mother’s political allies will extend the same courtesy to other children born to unmarried parents.

Bristol Palin has given birth to a son. Sincere best wishes to both of them; otherwise I agree with the child’s grandmother that this a private, not a public, matter.

Still, it’s an ill wind that blows no one good. Perhaps it’s not too much to hope that this event will help reverse the trend, deliberately engineered by cultural conservatives, toward coarsening the language we use to describe those unfortunate enough to be born to unmarried parents. By the 1980s, the accurate, and deliberately morally neutral, descriptions “out-of-wedlock child” or “non-marital birth” had replaced the earlier “illegitimate child,” which had in turn replaced “bastard,” as the description of this situation in educated speech and writing.

But then the cult-cons decided that it was important to add insult to injury, and worked, with some success, to bring back the older and cruder terms. Clearly, what a child whose father isn’t married to his mother really needs is to be told that his existence is “illegitimate,” or that to have been born as he was is constitutes a disgrace so deep that to name it is a deadly insult.

But it will be a cold day in Hell before Pete Wilson, or anyone else at the Heritage Foundation, describes Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston as “illegitimate,” or Policy Review refers to him as a “poor suffering bastard.”

And if little Tripp is too well-connected to be “re-stigmatized,” then perhaps his grandma’s allies will want to extend to the same courtesy to other, poorer, darker children born to unmarried parents.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com