McCain’s age, Obama’s Indonesia stint, Palin’s family not real issues
September 7, 2008
By agreeing to serve as John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, did Sarah Palin put an unfair load on her family — exposing her unmarried 17-year-old pregnant daughter to the media spotlight and raising questions about the family’s ability to care for their special-needs infant?
As soon as I heard the comments, I thought about a good friend of mine who died 10 years ago from cancer of the pancreas, after a valiant struggle to live — every minute, every hour. He resisted talk of death; he thought he could keep himself alive by maintaining his routine. Simple things like making a pot of coffee in the morning, taking the recyclables out to the garage, reading his paper and going to work, if only for an hour or two.
He didn’t go quietly, and many of his friends, me among them, wondered how he could impose so much on his family — when there was no chance he would beat the cancer. But my friend did nothing wrong. He just wanted to live. His family did what they did because they loved him.
I think often of my friend, especially when the talk turns to how people unfairly burden their families. But when it comes to the Palins, my answer is, I don’t know and I don’t care. I assume they love their children and will find a way to care for them should she be elevated to the vice presidency. Bearing burdens is part of family life. How many corporate-ladder-climbing American parents move their kids from state to state every couple of years, never letting them stay put long enough to form close friendships or come to know any place as home? It’s not a life I want, but what matters is that the parents love the kids and are smart enough to help them contend with change and stress — and to emerge stronger, smarter and better for it.
Some succeed. Some don’t. But we’re not in a position to judge the Palin family.
What’s more interesting to me is why these stories gain any traction at all (Disclaimer: Clearly the media had to report Bristol Palin’s pregnancy after the John McCain campaign and her parents issued a statement).
I’m convinced that the only reason these stories live through several news cycles is because they are easy to talk about even when you know next to nothing, because all of us (me, too) sometimes want to feel superior to big shots, and because we can pretend that these stories tell us really important things about a candidate’s judgment or character. (They usually don’t.)
So we have had people tell us Barack Obama is too skinny (because he doesn’t eat real guy food, I guess) or that he’s an elitist because he went to Harvard and vacationed in “exotic” Hawaii, where he was born. We’ve had political strategists, looking for the utterance of an inflammatory word, reviewing every recording ever made of Michelle Obama.
Obviously every national campaign gets an infusion of nonsense. But let’s not be distracted by it. The issue isn’t John McCain’s age, or Obama’s stint in Indonesia, or Sarah Palin’s child care plans.
In my opinion, this country is in deep trouble. We need jobs. We need a green(er) economy. We need energy independence. We need national health care. We need to regain moral authority in the world. I hope this election is about the issues, not the distractions.
In the age of the Internet, every day brings a new pop-up distraction. If voters let these sideshows shape their choice, we’ll get the government we deserve — and we’ll have missed the opportunity to get the government we need.