As the father of daughters, I agree we should keep our public mitts off Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s pregnant 17-year-old daughter. That pregnancy, however, injects a dose of reality into modern political debates that has been missing for a long time.

The pregnancy is not our business; that reality dose certainly should be. For too long, and on too many issues, Americans have been letting our beliefs and our politics guide our pursuit of solutions to our problems, rather than evidence of what does and does not work.

As a result, those problems have grown enormously while each side rejected any solution not in perfect harmony with its beliefs and political priorities. We haven’t even been fiddling while we burn; we have been letting the American Rome burn while debating whether to fiddle.

Teenage pregnancy is a perfect example. While parents have furiously debated what sex education their children should have in schools, 80 percent of teenagers have sex before the age of 20. The result of our failure to adequately educate teenagers for this reality is that American teens are more likely to get pregnant and have abortions than teenagers in any other industrialized nation in the world, even though they are not the most likely to have sex.

Our passion for public policy based on belief rather than facts and evidence make it absolutely relevant that a state governor and vice presidential candidate who supports abstinence-only sex education (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) for teenagers has a pregnant teenager.

Gov. Palin also opposes explicit sex education, despite the fact that explicit sex is the only kind people actually have. Her daughter’s pregnancy reminds us that one cannot successfully govern a country or one’s children based on blind faith. That Palin would continue to support an approach for other teenagers that failed in her own home raises legitimate questions about her judgment and political priorities.

Palin is not the only politician who has pursued public policy directions based on something other than facts. We are surrounded by politicians of all stripes and parties who do the same. Nor is wishful thinking and debate in American politics limited to teen sex. We have long claimed, for example, that ours is the best health care system in the world and we must not muck it up by changing its fundamental principles.

Facts, however, suggest it needs mucking. Our population’s health ranks well behind many other countries spending less than half per person what America does on health care. Rising health care costs are why the middle class has seen its real income decrease over the past 10 years, and built-in employee health care costs are pricing many American products out of global markets.

We no longer have the world’s best health care system, but until we recognize this we are not going to implement serious changes. Our national reluctance to deal with looming realities can also be seen in our approach to energy. We are currently consumed by a national debate about drilling offshore or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska that is as irrelevant as debates about how to stop teenagers from having sex. America has 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves and consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil production.

We can drill off every shore, in ANWR and every other beautiful American wilderness, and every deep fat fryer in America, and we will still not have enough oil to prevent fuel prices from going up much faster than most of us can afford. It is time to deal with that reality and stop hiding it behind debates about drilling.

As we leave Sarah Palin’s daughter to her privacy, we should first thank her for unintentionally helping us confront our childish reluctance to face these difficult truths; that the world we knew is changing fast and regardless of whether we want it to, that the world is more complex than simple solutions can manage, and that supporting beliefs as policy instead of solutions that work simply allows our problems to grow.

For us and for her, it is time to grow up fast. I bet she beats us to it.