Do you know Governor Palin?

John McCain's selection of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate is raising a helluva lot of questions -- not only about McCain and Palin, but about us. What values and filters do we bring to this scene? What assumptions about other people do we make? How fast are we to judge others? I know there's some risk in what I'm about to say, but here it goes. Over the long Labor Day Weekend, I found myself involved in a number of conversations about Palin. Since last week's announcement we've learned more about Palin and with each passing day comes a new disclosure. At first the focus was on her experience; then it moved to whether a mom of five kids, one a special needs child should even be running for VP; then there was the disclosure of her 17-year old daughter's pregnancy. And I'm sure more will follow.

Amid these stories have been our own conversations, within our families, among our friends, at weekend get-togethers. I have felt increasingly uncomfortable in these conversations. I have heard people state with great assuredness that Palin should never have returned to work so soon after the birth of her four-month old child; that parents of a special needs child should be at home full-time, because that is what is required; that Palin cannot work with five kids and still be a good mom.

In these conversations, I remained silent at first, wondering to myself how people can be so sure of themselves. They imposed a set of values they are convinced are the right ones -- indeed, the only ones -- and that no alternatives exist. I sat there and asked myself how many people like Sarah Palin do they know? I wish they would come with me into the homes of people I have met and worked with all across the nation, people who live their lives with goodness, decency, and sincerity, but in ways different than their own.

In each conversation, I found myself saying that many people work because they have to -- they have no choice. Moreover, I have said that I know two families with specials needs kids where both parents work, and where there is so much love and affection that I would be more than willing to have my own two kids join those families. Further, I have wondered aloud why stay-at-home dads who were once professionals are okay, but not Palin's husband.

My questions and thoughts were dismissed out of hand. There's more, too. For instance, the reflexive disdain I've heard against evangelicals is as bad as any discrimination I have seen. The belittling of any notion of creationism (that is, that there may be some higher force at work larger than science, which is in fact what many of the best scientists in the world say), is swift and punishing; the unwillingness to even understand what proponents are trying to say is unfortunate. The assumption that small-town America is irrelevant to the experiences of a growing nation is also mystifying to me -- and a sorry state of affairs.

Let me be clear: I am not defending Sarah Palin.  To me, there is some virtue in her selection, but also the rolling of dice. But how we talk this choice is just as important as our final judgment. Why? Because so many of us want a different kind of politics in America, a politics that is more reflective of reality, more thoughtful, and more hopeful. We want a politics that transcends Red States and Blue States. We want a politics that encourages honest and tough debate, but not unnecessary discord and divisiveness. Now is our chance.

In 1984, I worked for Walter Mondale when he nominated Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his choice for Vice President. Of course, the initial burst of excitement for Ferraro dissipated quickly as she found herself mired in family problems, with Mondale losing in a landslide. While Palin's selection and her running mate may take a similar route, the race is still far from over. But no matter what, my question is, what route will you take?

 


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