There’s a great bumper sticker that reads, “FOCUS ON YOUR OWN DAMN FAMILY.”

It’s most commonly seen on rebellious cars surrounding Colorado Springs, where the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family, that extreme right organization dedicated to “…nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide,” is headquartered. When I slog through all of the punditry and partisanship surrounding vice-presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin, I imagine myself doing 75 on that highway of life and taking in that bit of bumper wisdom.

In the 1980s, during the meteoric rise to the zenith of its popularity, the Republican Party and its golden boy, Ronald Reagan, cemented the influence of evangelical Christian leaders. The power of religion, both in delivering votes and determining policy, anointed – rightly or wrongly – the GOP as the party of faith-based and spiritually active voters.

After a short interregnum during the moderation of the George H.W. Bush presidency and the executive exile of the Clinton years, evangelicals came back in force in George W. Bush’s “victory” in 2000 and re-election in 2004. It has been widely reported that Dobson and other high profile religious leaders have weekly phone conferences with the president, and that their opinions have shaped decisions from foreign policy to domestic governance and social welfare.

No where has the remarkable success of the political religious right been more clearly felt than on the Supreme Court, felt not only in the recent elevation of very conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, but in the pocketing of moderates within the party, namely short-listed nominees such as Bush favorites Alberto Gonzalez and Harriet Miers. For a time, the modern Republican Party enjoyed tremendous success by governing solely to and for its highly organized and highly motivated ultraconservative base.

But all things come to an end. The hijacking of the national platform by a narrowly focused and unyielding agenda has produced cracks in the party’s traditional foundation. The Republican Party that won election after election by dominating issues like limited government and limited intervention abroad has thrown itself into an international web of religious extremism while compromising the rights of its citizens more than any previous administration in the history of the country. As the Republican National Convention in St. Paul so clearly demonstrated last week, GOP elders have no answers to the inherent contradictions that now plague the party.

Case in point is the situation now casting a pall over John McCain’s much-anticipated choice of a running mate. Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol, now infamously pregnant and planning to marry her high school sweetheart, has thrown open the darkest recesses of Republican hypocrisy on the issue of the American Family: though each citizen is endowed with all the trappings of freedom, though our military has fought for five years to bring freedom to remote parts of the world, though “family values” are a critical component of character for any presidential ticket, though abortion and children’s rights are the all-consuming obsession of the radical party faithful, though abstinence-only teaching is oftentimes the sole qualification for federal sex education funding, though Palin’s initial selection was hailed because of her experience as a mother of five – not grandmother of five-plus-one – the Grand Ol’ Party now insists that the issue of Palin’s family should be off-limits during the campaign.

They want the best of both worlds – to be able to once again, dubiously, claim the high ground of moralism and family values in what would otherwise be an unwinnable election while playing victim to the hordes of “left-wing radical bloggers” who tear through Palin’s family looking for evidence of moralism and family values.

The real victims here are Palin’s children. Bristol’s situation is not unusual, nor is it worthy of the media attention that has been paid to what is, obviously, a private family matter.

If, as McCain says, he knew about Bristol’s pregnancy before he nominated her mother for the vice-presidency, he has sent her up for the slaughter. Bristol, her child, her soon-to-be husband and her siblings are all paying the price for a political sellout that happened before any of them were born. To use an economic analogy – a topic conspicuously overlooked at the GOP convention – the Republicans long ago took out an evangelical mortgage on their platform for a future they could not afford.

“Focus on the family,” a refrain and ideology that proved the rallying cry for opportunistic politicians and concerned citizens everywhere, has now collapsed when turned back on itself. The Republican Party has learned, at the worst possible time, that you can’t eternally bemoan the American family and be one, too.

The Palins, as the laudatory GOP cronies repeat ad-nauseam, do stand for small-town America: the good and the bad. Their addition to McCain’s ticket would cause absolutely no ripples whatsoever, provided that their party hadn’t spent the last 25 years setting an impossible, hypocritical standard for families, government, faith and the future of the country.