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David Doody: Some Things I Learned From the Speeches

September 6, 2008

Last Monday as the Republican Party was supposed to be descending upon my little town of St. Paul, an opportunity arose for them to, finally after three years, play hero in the face of a storm. This whole week has been full of pleas to not politicize human events that are happening and could happen to any of us—hurricanes, military service, pregnancy, special-needs children, et al. It started with Gustav, and John McCain, instead of flying to St. Paul, flying to the Gulf Coast. Why exactly would an Arizona Senator need to be in Mississippi during a hurricane, other than for (as many, including Barack Obama have pointed out) a photo op? He is not president and he has never had anything to do with a state that must be concerned about hurricanes. I’ve been to Arizona once. Before I went I always thought it was a bit of hyperbole when people spoke of a “dry heat”—“Oh, it’s not that bad when it’s 110 in the shade, because it’s a dry heat.” Coming from a place that can reach 100 degrees with 85% humidity in the summer I just couldn’t believe it. After visiting, I realized that there was truth to the statement; indeed I realized just how dry a place could be. So, why was McCain in the Gulf Coast? The simple fact that he had a chance to look like he was doing something that his party failed so colossally to do three years ago when Katrina hit—to actually appear like he was a caring, compassionate human being.

In another bit of politicizing, we are all now, after watching the Republican nominee for vice president’s speech at the RNC, fully aware that Sarah Palin’s son is in the Army after she told us:

“[John McCain]’s a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight.

And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief. I’m just one of many moms who’ll say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm’s way.

Our son Track is 19.

And one week from tomorrow — Sept. 11 — he’ll deploy to Iraq with the Army infantry in the service of his country.

My nephew Kasey also enlisted and serves on a carrier in the Persian Gulf.

My family is proud of both of them and of all the fine men and women serving the country in uniform.”

Contrast this with Beau Biden’s speech, and his reference to his future service:

“I know my father will be a great vice president. As I mentioned, my dad has always been there for me, my brother and my sister, every day. But because of other duties, it won’t be possible for me to be here this fall to stand by him the way he stood by me. So I have something to ask of you. Be there for my dad like he was for me.”

And add to that Joe Biden’s response to his son; he said only, “Beau, I love you. I am so proud of you. Proud of the son you are. Proud of the father you’ve become.”

There is no debating here which Party is using “service to this country” for its own political gain. One Party puts country first out of obligation to fellow citizens. One uses “country first” as a stepping-stone to another platform. And I’m not only talking about military service here. I’m talking about the larger call to serve that even John McCain called for in his acceptance speech at the RNC. He said:

“If you find faults with our country, make it a better one. If you’re disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces. Become a teacher. Enter the ministry. Run for public office. Feed a hungry child. Teach an illiterate adult to read. Comfort the afflicted. Defend the rights of the oppressed. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier. Because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.”

Which brings me to perhaps the most infuriating part of what took place inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul over these last few days (Much time can be spent debating the most infuriating parts that happened outside of those walls, on the streets and bridges of this city). Even as the leader of their party planned to call each citizen to action in the final speech of the RNC, two of the most publicized members of his party openly mocked that call to action in their own speeches. Referring to Obama, Rudy Giuliani said the following:

“On the other hand, you have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. What? He worked — I said — I said, OK, OK, maybe this is the first problem on the resume.

He worked as a community organizer. He immersed himself in Chicago machine politics.”

And the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population roughly 5,000 when she was mayor) said, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

So much for “American hats.” When it comes to the level of importance of what John McCain called “serv[ing] a cause greater than yourself,” the Republican Party will be the judge.

And then there is the politicizing of the future grandchild of the Republican VP nominee. I will only say this about this issue: If you make it your position to make it so government can categorically go into the homes of families and would-be or would-not-be families, then do not expect people to stay out of yours when you’d like them to. The Republican Party’s policies already politicize this issue; it is, in fact, one of their absolutely necessary issues—one that has helped them feed their frenzied members and galvanized them to vote in huge numbers. Simply because you wish to spin the politicizing of such an issue so it will be seen in a positive light by your base (Read: at least no abortion), does not make it an issue that only you can politicize.

So here’s what I learned from the speeches and talk that came to my hometown this last week: There seems to be a turning in the way some are thinking about politics and a steadfastness in others to adhere to a view of politics that somehow became the norm. When did it become unfashionable to know about what is going on in our country? When did the political process become something that should be put to the side when more important human matters need to take center stage? Isn’t that process inherent in our country’s DNA (to steal another line from an RNC speech), in the words, “For the People, by the People”? It became abundantly clear this past week that the Republican Party is not averse to using anything and everything to gain a political leg-up. What did not become abundantly clear is why they claim to want to be separate from the political means towards their end, indeed from the process that makes this country what it is, or should be, or could be.

-David Doody

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