Obama, McCain, Palin & generosity

When I hosted the online retreat a few weeks ago, we pondered – a lot – the idea of not getting in our own way, not disrupting the trajectories of our lives by insisting on our own ways, or complicating things with our own insecurities and neurosis. We also talked about the mysterious value of sacrifice and generosity.

In watching the coverage of John McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, I thought about generosity and the lack thereof and how they play out, and what sort of payback they bring you in the universe.

What I mean is, yesterday, on the fourth day of the Democrat National Convention, John McCain made an ad congratulating Obama – and the Obama campaign appreciated it and wished he would do more ads like those. McCain didn’t have to do that, but he did, and it was a fairly classy thing to do. No, not classy, it generous. It showed a generosity of spirit.

Today, McCain named Palin, and Obama’s first reaction was ungracious and ungenerous.

That got cleaned up and reconsidered, and Obama even took the corrective further, by calling Palin to congratulate her, but first responses often tell us what is in the heart, and the heart of the Obama campaign lacked generosity.

Barack Obama does not easily show much generosity of spirit. He has thrown a lot of people under the bus, when political expediency has demanded it, but I’m thinking specifically of his lack of generosity toward Hillary Clinton, when she suspended her campaign. His coffers are full-to-overflowing, but he did not offer to help Clinton’s debts from them. Instead, he said he’d ask his supporters to cover Hillary’s debts, but then – when the time came – he forgot to do that

Although some of us were liking her months ago, and hoping for this moment regardless of who Obama chose as his running mate, Sarah Palin’s ascension to the national ticket actually owes something to Obama’s lack of generosity toward Hillary. Had he treated Hillary with respect, had he at least pretended to be vetting her for the veep spot and helped her debt, he would have accomplished two things: putting Hillary in his debt, and re-assuring her supporters that they could count on his respect for their interests.

Instead, Obama was not magnanimous in victory, he was sort of flinty and closed, like a spiritual Scrooge; he did not share. And that opened the door for McCain to say, “hmmm…Gov. Palin is smart, she knows energy, she’s a reformer, and a a bit of a ball buster; she’ll energize the base, and hey, maybe she’ll please some (not all) women, too.”

I mean, this is politics, after all, not beanbag. Are we going to pretend, suddenly, that opportunistic moves sully the game? That would be strange; opportunism is the pivot upon which whole battles have turned.

McCain has demonstrated a generosity of spirit many times – when he was offered a chance to leave a Vietnam POW camp, he stayed, because others had been there longer. When John Kerry’s military record was assaulted in 2004, McCain generously defended him, at the risk of offending his own party (and got kicked for it, this election, by Kerry, who did not return the favor). When Bush trampled him in 2000, McCain still campaigned for him in 2004. When his wife brought home a Bangladeshi orphan who she’d encountered in one of Mother Teresa’s houses, he said, “where’s the baby going,” his wife said, “home with us,” and there it was.

I think when we choose to be generous with our spirits and in our give-and-takes with others, that keeps things rightly aligned in our lives – it doesn’t upset trajectories and make a mess of things – and it comes back to us, too, in good ways.

I don’t know much about Joe Biden, so I can’t say, but it would seem to me that Gov. Palin also has a generous spirit. Having five children in an age when most of us have only two suggests openness and selflessness, and trust, too – a willingness to not interfere with the flow. And in an age where babies carrying extra chromosomes are routinely aborted, even by parents who love the child and believe they’re doing the best thing for their son or daughter by aborting, Palin both loved the child and let the child live. To me, again, that says: generous spirit.

In his book, One Man’s America, George Will recalls the birth of his son, Jon, who also has an extra chromosome. The hospital asked Will and his wife if they would be leaving the baby behind, which stunned them. They informed the hospital that no, they’d be taking their son home, where he belonged, with them. But the title of Will’s essay is, “Golly, What Did Jon DO?” As in, how dare Jon have a life in a world where – ungenerously – people wonder why he is even here.

Already the press – predictably and ungenerously (and seeming to be a tad uncomfortable) – has said “gee, shouldn’t Gov. Palin be home raising her Baby-With-Down-Syndrome?” I wonder how long it will be before they’ll be asking so-called experts like this one, “wouldn’t aborting the Baby-With-Down-Syndrome have been the responsible thing to do? And doesn’t Palin keeping the baby show weak judgment?”

(OMG, that didnt’ take long:Sarah Palin’s judgment is despicalble. She knowingly whelped a Mongoloid child earlier this year, probably to pander to the Right to Life Nutbags. Irresponsible decisions like hers dilutes the viability of the American Gene Pool. No wonder why we are falling farther and farther behind in an increasingly competitive global economic environment. Her OB should have cut her tubes after her first child!!!
Posted by: paul Curooke)

His name is Trig. Trig Paxson Van Palin, and her husband, Todd Palin, seems quite capable of helping out in that department, and quite willing. He seems pretty generous, too. Actually, it seems pretty progressive and counter-culture of them, doesn’t it?

It goes without saying that now that they are national people, and running against a ticket the press absolutely adores, the Palins will be grist for the usual mill. It will be interesting to watch, and to see if their generous spirits help them with what we all know will become very ugly, very quickly.

It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it, to muse on how things of the spirit can be reflected (and can affect) politics?

Meanwhile, I contributed to McCain/Palin here.

Tony Rossi sends this along: Nat Hentoff writing about Palin last May:

During her first year in office, as reported by the Associated Press on May 10, she “distanced herself from the old guard, powerful members of the state GOP (and) stood up to the oil interests that hold great power in Alaska, and with bipartisan support in the statehouse, she won a tax increase on the oil companies’ profits.” Last December, this mother of four children, Mrs. Palin, four months’ pregnant, found she was going to have a child with Down syndrome — a condition characterized by moderate-to-severe mental retardation. A school friend of one of my sons had Down syndrome; I have also known functioning adults with the extra chromosomes of that syndrome.

Mrs. Palin’s first reaction to the diagnosis was to research the facts about the condition, since, as she said, “I’ve never had problems with my other pregnancies.” As a result, she and her husband, Todd, never had any doubt they would have the child.

Rod Dreher hears from an Alaskan who is excited

Ann Althouse notes that some on the left are being ungenerous about Palin’s hairstyle. I love it. And Ann seems to understand what they do not. One of her commenters rightly notes that Palin has better veep hair than Biden. Ouch.

Rachel Lucas, is loving Piper Palin’s tiara, and I am too. Adorable.

Ace is blogging up a storm named Sarah, but Gustav sure seems like a pain.

Kim at Musing Minds is starting a Special-Needs Moms for McCain/Palin group.

Fausta has more.

Beth is happy

Related: Palin brings flavor to ’08

Amazon.com Widgets

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://salesianity.blogspot.com/ Fr. Steve Leake

    This was a wonderful post… Today was a wonderful day for America!

  • JPatrick

    Some around the media and blogs are talking about how McCain’s choice was a cynical ploy; I don’t see it that way. I see McCain picking someone who reminds him of one of his political heroes, Theodore Roosevelt.

    Gov. Palin is a reform governor, as was Roosevelt. Teddy went against political and government corruption both as NYC Police Commissioner, governor of NY, and as president. Both Gov. Palin and Roosevelt love the outdoors, and while Roosevelt was a rancher, Sarah Palin was a commercial fisher.

    I see John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a commitment to reform and responsibility in government.

    [Interesting comparison. As to McCain's being a cynical ploy, do the Dems really want to go there, and have to answer whether they also - in nominating a less-experienced but more appealing candidate - did not also make a cynical move? They can't argue that Obama has more experience than their other candidates. -admin]

  • Terrye

    Great post. I was so surprised when McCain picked Palin. I hope they make it to the White House.

  • ViolaJ.

    I think this post shows also a very generous spirit!

    I like her and she is a woman of a lot of strength. I hope it will not get too ugly. It seems like such a nice family. Politics on that level can really do a number on people. She is self-made though, and strong.

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  • http://sthubertsrosary.com/default.aspx ShanaSFO

    I have no idea what McCains ‘ploy’ was in his picking of Palin, but I can tell you that it has energized someone who was completely bored & cynical about politics for quite some time, my 67 year old dad.

    Dad was a mill-rat, a welder, union man, avid hunter/fisherman, solid voting Democrat until the Clintons began giving him heartburn on a regular basis, and as he saw his beloved Democratic party become unbearably mean in tone & unravel before his eyes into a bunch of PC fringers who wanted to undo his civil rights and tax everything he worked so hard to make. He went from criticizing me roundly for intending to vote for G. Bush the first, to screaming and cheering along side of me at the Western PA ReElect Bush Rally a few election cycles later. He was proud of the new voter registration card he got, the one with “Republican” on it.

    Lately, with only McCain or Obama as his choices, he was listless about the whole election. Couldn’t care who won. Thought little of RHINOman’s voting record but less of Messiah’s empty speeches and his associates. Yawned at Biden. Thought of going Independent on the voter thing, but couldn’t manage the energy to go down and change it. He didn’t care.

    Today, he called me just as McCain was ending his introduction of Palin and was cheering so loudly through the phone I couldn’t hear both his enthusiastic comments and what she was saying, too. I had to ask him if I could call him after the speech so I could actually hear it myself.

    As he answered the phone afterward, I said, “So what do you think, Dad?”

    For the next half hour I couldn’t get a word in edgewise as he praised the Governor’s speech, her family, her poise and McCain’s smarts in choosing her in the most pleased, animated tone I’ve heard since – well – since the Western PA ReElect Bush Rally years back. He kept saying how McCain was pretty clever to choose a woman who was smart, seemed relaxed and confident. Her lifetime NRA membership and hunting/fishing history also gave her HUGE bonus points. He was impressed with her straightforward attitude and her cheerful demeanor.

    If it did nothing else, choosing her gave my dad a reason to vote for McCain and not against Obama.

  • http://hillaryneedsavacation.blogspot.com/ HNAV

    Another fascinating post.

    I think you show a great deal of generosity on this blog, and have for a long time.

    You are generous with Senator McCain regarding this congratulations ad, for I tend to see a gimmick, intending to attract votes.

    I am too cynical of Washington Insiders, often questioning how they play the political game, making a life long career of Congress.

    This is just one of the reasons why President Bush has been so admirable, being a very honest, decent, generous, strong Leader.

    For example, sadly, Senator McCain was not so generous to Sec. Rumsfeld, as he was to Hillary Clinton (even after she impugned the integrity of General Petraeus in the Senate). This, in my humble opinion, was a clear effort to placate Liberal Voters in Open Primaries, like NH, which McCain desperately needed to win to stay afloat.

    It is this self serving history, which makes me sense the offering wasn’t genuine.

    Perhaps I should forgo remembering past efforts, which fail to impress, might be quite unethical, and champion what appears to be the positive in the present.

    This could encourage better behavior.

    But in terms of the Beltway Celebrity offering, this is very hard to do, not remaining rather suspect.

    Cynical focus can be too harsh at times.

    I will work on it, for I truly prefer your generous spirit.

    And do hope Senator McCain is genuine in this regard. It is a nice gesture.

    He has a history of doing things to further his own political career, and maybe this is not one of them.

    We shall see.

    However, even if his pick of Gov. Palin was a calculated move to game Gender motivated Voters, it is a welcome selection.

    I do believe, Gov. Palin is very genuine.

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  • http://newine.wordpress.com ultraguy

    Great post, with (as usual) great subtlety, spirit and best of all, grace. Brava!

    The quote about Palin lacking judgment in having Trig, and your response to it (“he has a name”) are, respectively, sickening and appropriate. I’ve been struggling to articulate all of the reasons I’m over-the-moon excited about her being on the ticket but one of them, surely, is that she lives, in multiple dimensions, a worldview with which I agree.

    She doesn’t just say the words, but appears to LIVE it. Although she has great debating skills too, her mere person-hood — the hard choices she’s made in her life — offer the perfect counter to a man who everyone agrees is a silver-tongued orator… a stark contrast to folks like the “gene pool” commenter. Her presence says, in effect: “you can argue with me all you want, but look at ME and my DECISIONS you’ll get all the rebuttals you really need to understand what I’m about and what I’ll do in office”.

  • ViolaJ.

    Mama has a post up and it looks like all the ugliness has already begun. I find the political ugliness almost unbearable. It makes me sick to my stomach to read and hear some of these things.

    I think she is dynamic! I have some questions in regards to her being able to step into the position of President should McCain pass away for some reason. I think that needs to be really looked at very carefully. However, she brings with her the same energy and dynamics that so many find attractive in Obama. It is one of change and ‘can do it’ attitude.

    It will get very interesting, to say the least.

    Keep us posted! Thanks so much!

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  • Joseph

    Anchoress, I’m afraid generosity is not my long suit either, and if I am not Scrooge, there are certainly days when I feel like Jacob Marley, carrying his chains and cashboxes for all eternity. So I won’t dispute your intermeasurement of generosity among all these public figures.

    But, upon reflection, it has occurred to me that McCain’s choice of Palin was actually a political move with an agenda that no one has yet figured out, but which becomes transparent when looking at your comment columns. He did it just for you and your readers–by whom I mean the “values voters” of the Republican base.

    Unlike most of your readers, I doubt that Palin will change Obama’s numbers in the least, and I frankly don’t expect either him or Joe Biden to be anything but perfect gentlemen toward her, because I’m sure they’ve already figured out that Palin is irrelevant to Obama’s numbers, too.

    They will be preparing for the VP debate, of course, as I hope the McCain campaign has already started to do. Palin is going to have to catch up on a lot of homework for it, because the prime danger is that she will appear to be uninformed. This is not a matter of “experience”, or of intellectual capacity, it is a matter of sheer information about all sorts of things [such as "nuclear proliferation"] that never come across a Governor’s desk. I doubt very seriously that she has been studying any of these things up to now, and she will have to appear to have some command of them by the time the debate opens in a very few short weeks.

    Returning to McCain’s strategy, Palin is his key to the magic word that put George W. Bush into the White House in 2004: turnout. He needs you and every last one of your values voter readers to get inside that voting booth, particularly in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. By any real measure he is seriously behind, and he knows it. Obama has steadily kept a minimum of two percentage points ahead of McCain in the great majority of all polls throughout most of the Summer.

    He’s currently about six ahead and knocking on the door of 50% popular vote. And, for all the fuss over them, McCain’s ads have really not dented that basic lead. Two points does not sound like very much, but, as matters now stand, it translates into an easy Electoral College victory for Obama–somewhere on the order of 280-290 EC votes. Give Obama six points on November 4 and you have a 300+ EC landslide and probably 60 Democratic Senators in the bargain.

    Worse, the only state of large population, and therefore many EC votes, that McCain can count on right now is Texas. Every other one is either Obama’s, or toss-up.

    He needs your turnout badly. He needs you and your readers to get excited, and he’s now got you excited.

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