Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stay the Course

Modern presidential politics is overly personal, and has been for some time. This modern politics tends to focus on the actions of a candidate and how they can be manipulated to match superficial stereotypes that have been affixed to that image by the media.

Watching John and Elizabeth Edwards this morning, a new kind of personalization was introduced to the campaign. As a couple, the candidate and his wife spoke in a plain, grassy space with the sun at their backs and they told America of an intimate development in their personal lives. Elizabeth's cancer has returned, and is not curable. The moment was too real, in some respects, because it made every viewer a witness to the vulnerability of those who seek political power. I am not sure what Americans truly expect from their political leaders anymore, but the kind of vulnerability John and Elizabeth exhibited is rare and awkward and human.

Pundits and bloggers have already begun their cynical march of snide doubt and division on the matter, and this reaction can be expected, for it seems it is how one survives in America these days. But I couldn't help but wish, as I watched the Edwardses speak, that America would embrace the idea they were offering us: that honest public service is about sacrifice and hope in the name of ideas, in the name of some form of a cause that includes each and all. It is called public service because you are supposed to be a servant to the community, not just to your convictions or ambitions, but to a vision of building a community that includes every citizen, functioning in a system of order that balances both practical and impossible goals.

We are all so cynical, and so afraid to believe what leaders tell us anymore. The vision of community that has persisted from our political leaders for the past several years does not include everyone, it is a vision founded on group victory, on a selfish, singular faith without reason, and on delusions of success without planning that are always mightily crafted on the backs of others.

I have met John and Elizabeth and have worked for their past campaigns, and so my response to their press conference this morning was an instant, familial type of empathy. I am fully aware some will not respond that way. Some individuals will treat this situation as an opportunistic moment, a nasty reflex born out of the trail of deceits that liter our national landscape: the WMDs, the Mission Accomplisheds, the Patriot Acts, the Katrinas, the Walter Reeds.

We have been systematically trained to disbelieve all sentiment. We have been aggressively trained to view compassion as weakness. I don't know how to make that stop for everyone else, but I can make it stop with me.

The media has never questioned the substance of the family values of that stubborn 30% of America that adores George W. Bush and his divisive messianic visions. I am sure, however, that they will question the substance of the Edwardses family values in their decision to go forward with the campaign. Only Republicans are allowed to be resolute and principled, it seems. The significant difference is that George W. Bush is resolute in believing in his cronies and his God, but John Edwards is resolute in believing in a different America where all are included and lifted.

The shared faith of John and Elizabeth was evident today, and as they constantly "look for the silver lining" within the months to come that faith will sustain them. It was a living, implied faith and not sold as a slogan. How remarkable.

Senator Edwards likes to say that "It's time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war," and I agree. Today the Senator and his wife asked all of us to be patriotic about that vision of an American community where public servants and the polity trade sacrifices with confident faith in one another's honest efforts to make the nation work as one.

It's time to put our faith in something other than a President's certainty. I'll put my faith in John Edwards' humanity.

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