The Common Good

Beyond Palin's Personality

Sojomail - September 4, 2008


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

We have done a whole number of things to help low-income families, and it doesn’t show up in the poverty figures. Therefore, we misinterpret the effect of these policies.

- Rebecca M. Blank, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, commenting on bipartisan efforts to reform the federal definition of the poverty line, which has not been updated -- aside from adjustments for price increases -- since the 1960s. (Source: The New York Times)

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HEARTS & MINDS BY JIM WALLIS

Beyond Palin's Personality


While many conservatives have known and admired Sarah Palin for some time, most Americans do not know her. So the intense media focus on the new Republican vice-presidential nominee was to be expected. But some of it has been inappropriate, especially when reporters go after the Palin family's choices. The suggestion that running for vice president with a 5-month-old special-needs child and a pregnant 17-year-old daughter should make her suspect as a mother is a blatant double standard that would not be applied to a male candidate. All four candidates should indeed focus on the needs of their families, and it's clear they all do. But a mother with children should have as much freedom to run for office as a father in the same situation.

Palin introduced herself to the country with last night's speech to the Republican National Convention. She gave the crowd what it was looking for -- the narrative of her life, an all-out defense of John McCain, and strong criticisms of Democrats, Washington, and the media. If anyone had any questions about her being a formidable political figure, those were put to rest last night. Republican leaders are taking pride this morning in Palin's high-school nickname: "Sarah Barracuda." Many found her speech feisty and tough, while others found it negative and smug. But Palin has clearly united the three legs of the modern Republican Party -- social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign policy hawks -- and really energized that base, as was evident in the Convention Hall last night. Media commentators across the spectrum commented on the success of Palin's address. But the well-delivered speech still leaves many questions unanswered. As conservative columnist Steve Chapman wrote in the Chicago Tribune,

Palin has another, more complicated task that this speech postponed: reaching out to millions of people who are honestly wondering if she has the experience, depth and temperament to step into the Oval Office. What many of those Americans need to see are qualities like judgment, wisdom, tolerance and flexibility. Those traits were conspicuous by their absence tonight.

With two months to go, the questions will certainly be raised. The most important one that is emerging is which ticket will be most able to reach out to many people in the middle in both parties, and the all-important political independents. Facts will be important. Whose tax policies will most benefit low-income and middle-class families? Who has a plan to reverse the economic downturn? Who has the smartest strategy for countering the real threats of terrorism? And who has the best and most comprehensive response to the full range of moral issues that are of deep concern to people of faith?

Now, all four of the political figures on their respective party tickets have been shown to have compelling personal stories. All four are "real people," as the slogan goes. But this election must not just be about personalities, or inspiring personal histories; it must be about the issues, the records, the leadership, and the facts. May God help us to stay focused on that. Last week belonged to the Democrats, this week to the Republicans. Now, after the showy conventions of the past two weeks, the real work of this election can begin.

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My Summer with Daddy King (Part 1, interview by Becky Garrison)

As I was raised as a white student in the North, I really wanted to get a larger perspective and to see the world through the eyes of a black Christian and the eyes of the Kings. There was a program that was sending white students to the historic black churches, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen and got the Ebenezer Baptist Church. ... The first experience I had in preaching was the very night I got there. We had dinner and then Rev. King Sr. asked me to come to evening prayer. So, I went to the prayer service and in the middle of the first hymn, he handed me a Bible and said, "You're going to preach after the first hymn."


Speeches are Fine, but Real Change Takes a Movement (by Troy Jackson)

We remember Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 1963 March on Washington not because of a grand event or even a great speech, but because it was an event that galvanized grassroots power built throughout the South and throughout the nation. The 1963 march was not a tactical PR move, but a culmination of a movement that transformed our nation. As we watch people fill arenas in Denver and the Twin Cities, many will be inspired as we listen to compelling speeches from both Democrats and Republicans. But remember, a collection of tens of thousands of people responding to a grand speech never changed anything, anymore than the millions who will gather for NFL and college football games this fall will have a great social impact on our world.


New Study on Abortion Reduction (by Mary Nelson)

The heated abortion debate has up to this time been focused on legal measures. A new study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good concludes that government social spending and economic conditions do more to reduce abortions than legal strategies such as parental consent laws. Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in abortions in the 1990s. The results are significant. States that spend more generously on nutritional supplement programs, for example, could see up to 37 percent lower abortion rates. Other factors such as cutting welfare more slowly and higher male employment rates had a 20 to 29 percent reduction rate.


Delegate Diversity (by Jim Wallis)

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Where Wars Come From (by Valerie Elverton Dixon)

All too often we divide the world into them and us. We call them evil; we call ourselves good. And, when the Other does evil acts, this becomes the justification for our own retaliatory evil. We tell ourselves it is only reasonable to prepare for war and to fight wars in the name of defense or of retributive justice. However, New Testament wisdom also teaches us to be self-reflective when locating the cause of war. James 4:1 asks: "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" James answers: "Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain." Finally, James informs us that we do not have because we do not ask; we do not receive because our motivations are wrong. We only want what we want for the sake of our own pleasure (James 4:2-3).


Letting Reconciliation's Challenge Change Us (by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)

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Searching for Common Ground on Abortion at the Republican Convention (by Jim Wallis)

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More Baby Steps as We Crawl Toward Reconciliation (by Shane Claiborne)

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Randy Newman's Harps and Angels and the Fall of the American Empire (by Gareth Higgins)

Randy Newman might be surprised to see himself mentioned on a progressive spirituality blog. In his five decades of making music that is alternately brilliantly satirical and elegant (and sometimes both), he hasn't often smiled on religion or religious people. In spite of his skepticism about spirituality, he also has written some of the most beautiful love songs I've ever heard, and many of these are shot through with regret for his past mistakes.


Baby Steps as We Crawl Toward Reconciliation (by Shane Claiborne)

Vonetta and Jason, first I want you to know that I am deeply grateful for the conversation you've invited and stirred with our private conversations and now your blog post. I take all critique very seriously, and pray and reflect on it. Probably the most personally painful lament and failure of our communities is around race and reconciliation; we are at times paralyzed by the deep history and slimy elusiveness of racial injustice and so-called "privilege." We've been trying for 10 years to figure this out. ... I want to share more publically a few things that I have shared with you in our private conversations -- though I hesitate to do so as it could come across as defensively flaunting all the "progress" we have made. That is by no means the case. I find our pursuit of reconciliation has been riddled with failure and setbacks, and a paralysis of imagination. I share this not as a boastful discrediting of your critique, but rather as a sign that I deeply honor your thoughts and invite your constructive ideas on how we can do things better.


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Whew. Take a breath, Christians! I just read all the comments to my post Friday on Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech of a major party's nomination to the highest office in the country -- the first African American to have achieved that American milestone. ... I didn't even comment on the content of the speech, except to say it allowed Obama to clearly and eloquently present himself and his policy ideas, so Americans could agree or disagree. But the heat of the comments to the post was amazing and alarming to me. So I think it is time to plead for some Christian civility in this election year. Let me give an example of Christian civility from Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which is a leading institution of the "Religious Right" and whom nobody would confuse with a Democratic or Obama supporter.


New Life from an Old Hymn (by Phyllis Tickle)

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An Historic Speech (by Jim Wallis)

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Reconciliation's Challenge for New Monastic Communities (by Jason and Vonetta Storbakken)

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Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (by Virginia Lohmann Bauman)

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A Cleveland Original (by Tom Allio)

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Charlie Wilson's Warning (by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

Whenever I'm reminded of our support for the likes of the mujahadeen, Saddam Hussein's war against Iran, and Manuel Noriega in Panama, I can't help but wonder -- what future enemy are we currently arming and training? Where are we currently focusing on military aid when a more comprehensive approach is needed to create real security? (Pakistan, I'm looking in your direction ...)


Minor Party Pros and Cons (by Marcia Ford)

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