This year’s presidential politics really are personal

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

It’s easy to be cynical about politics. And after spending last week in Denver, covering the Democratic National Convention, surrounded by preening, narcissistic pols, listening to endless speechifying, ears and eyes assaulted by protestors, special interests and subgroups of every description, it was even easier.
But it wasn’t just a manufactured spectacle. To see Barack Obama receive the Democratic nomination was moving, for deeply personal reasons.
Forty-six years ago, I departed these shores on an ancient wooden sailboat, bound for the then-remote islands of the South Pacific. I was 22 and full of the bravery and certainty of youth.
In Tahiti, I was married. I was 23, my bride 18. She was, I thought, the most beautiful woman in an island of beautiful women.
During 1964, the year of our marriage, anti-miscegenation statutes forbidding interracial marriage were in force in many southern states, including Maryland, where my father’s family had lived for centuries.
Had I taken my beautiful young wife there, we would have risked arrest.
Our marriage lasted seven years, and produced a son, now in his early 40s. He, in turn, has four children.
My forebears came to America on the Mayflower. One triple-great grandfather designed the Capitol, and another built it. Family members fought in the American Revolution, and for both the North and South during the Civil War.
My son, like Obama, the product of an impetuous cross-cultural romance between two headstrong young people, carries their genes and those of the Polynesian seafarers who populated the Pacific islands many centuries ago. And his children, of English/French/Chinese/Polynesian descent, embody the diversity of the present world, and of present-day America.
When I look at Obama, I don’t see someone strange and exotic. I see my son and my grandchildren. I see America as it is today — open, accepting, and ready to embrace the best among us.
No one could have predicted the four nominees a year ago — and if anyone did, and put money down on the British political betting sites, that person is now choosing a new car at the Ferrari dealership.
Things seemed pretty clear then: John McCain had no shot, Rudy Giuliani was leading in the polls and Hillary Clinton was moving inexorably toward victory. The then-consensus was that a Giuliani/Mitt Romney ticket would square off against a Clinton/Obama, or maybe a Clinton/John Edwards pairing.
But Obama/Biden??!! McCain/Sarah Palin??!!
The Palin choice is, like McCain himself, bold, daring and impetuous. Given that McCain will be 72 when/if inaugurated, and given his health history, he was expected to choose someone with impeccable credentials, as did Ronald Reagan with George H.W. Bush.
Palin’s a rising Republican star, and, like McCain, hasn’t hesitated to take on GOP miscreants. It can be argued that, as the governor of the largest state, Palin has plenty of executive experience — but Alaska’s population is only slightly larger than that of El Paso County.
County Commissioner Sallie Clark would have been an equally credible choice — she’s Republican, conservative, owns a business, has years of experience in government and is as smart and articulate as Palin.
Mitt Romney, whatever one might think about his politics, was the obvious choice. He’s a superbly capable businessman, politician, and nonprofit leader, who could step into the presidency without ruffling a hair on his uncannily well-coiffed head.
For Obama, choosing Biden was a no-brainer. Vice-presidential choices are usually governed by the same rule that doctors abide by: above all else, do no harm. A Catholic of working-class background, Biden brings silver hair, long experience and grown-up gravitas to the ticket.
But whichever ticket emerges victorious on Nov. 4, there will be one sure winner. Palin, already subjected to withering media scrutiny, has so far comported herself with strength and dignity.
It might be that she has been thrust on the national stage too early, like a college quarterback drafted with the first pick in the NFL draft who finds himself starting for a bad team.
But Palin’s no Ryan Leaf — think Tom Brady instead, the obscure sixth-round pick who has led the Patriots to three NFL championships.
This might not be Palin’s year, but she’s the person who can lead the Republicans away from the disarray of the Bush years, and back to the sensible conservatism of the sainted Ronald Reagan.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.