Where Palin Really Stands on Sex Education

War in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia's invasion of Georgia, the fragile economy, health insurance ... Who knew the 2008 election would center on sex education?

Sarah Palin's pro-life beliefs took center stage, when John McCain picked her as his running mate.  The governor and her husband had rejected abortion after learning their baby would be born with Down Syndrome. Announcing Trig's birth, Palin called him "absolutely perfect."

It's estimated 90 percent of parents choose abortion rather than raise a child with Down Syndrome.  To some, Palin's choice seemed extreme.

Then, to quell bizarre rumors, Palin announced that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant -- and engaged to be married to her 18-year-old boyfriend.

Teen pregnancy happens in every sort of family, but it's uncommon these days for a middle-class girl to reject abortion and get married while still in high school. Again, the Palins were out of the mainstream.

A nation turned its leering eyes to the Palin family. A debate ensued: Was  "abstinence-only education" to blame for the pregnancy? Does "comprehensive sex ed" work? Did Bristol Palin have a choice?

Actually, Alaska schools don't teach abstinence only, notes the Anchorage Daily News.

The state requires that abstinence be "stressed," but not to the exclusion of comprehensive sex education, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Wasilla High, where Bristol Palin is a student, teaches the soup-to-nuts course, reports Rory of Parentalcation, who lives nearby.  "I called up my buddy who has a teenage daughter in school there, and asked him the question. He said they teach the same thing every school does. Don't do it, but if you do, use birth control ... risks ... blah, blah, blah."

Furthermore, Gov. Palin appears to support that policy,  reports the Los Angeles Times, though her position has either been nuanced or muddled, depending on your political sympathies.

Running for governor of Alaska in 2006, Sarah Palin filled out a questionnaire that asked if she'd support funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs instead of "explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?"

Palin wrote, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

The next month, Palin clarified "explicit," on a radio debate. Asked if "explicit" programs include those that discuss condoms. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign."

"Explicit means explicit," she said. "No, I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."

What wouldn't she support? Condom-on-banana practice? Porn flicks? Not clear.

Palin also has nuanced/muddled views on banning abortion. During the 2006 campaign, the Anchorage Daily News asked: "If Roe v. Wade were overturned and states could once again prohibit abortion ... should abortion be prohibited in Alaska?"

Palin answered: "Under this hypothetical scenario, it would not be up to the governor to unilaterally ban anything. It would be up to the people of Alaska to discuss and decide how we would like our society to reflect our values."

That's not too far from Joe Biden's position: He thinks life starts at conception but wouldn't impose his beliefs on others. (He's voted to maintain abortion rights.)

Palin is an evangelical Christian with conservative views. Hillary Clinton, she's not. But she's not a pit bull on social issues, or even a lipsticked pig. She sounds like ... well, like a politician.

McCain must think Americans mistrust sex ed, because he's released a 30-second TV ad  claiming Barack Obama voted for an Illinois law to teach "'comprehensive sex education' to kindergartners." The announcer: "Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family."

As a state senator, Obama voted for a law authorizing  "age-appropriate" sex education in kindergarten through 12th grade. Attacked earlier for his vote, he said he wanted schools to warn kindergartners about "bad touches" and "stranger danger." At the time, Obama's daughters were three and six years old. I really doubt he wanted the condom-banana demo.

McCain risks looking like a sex-addled nut on this one.  He needs to learn a little nuance from his running mate.