Thursday, March 08, 2012

Notes from an Election-Year Observer

Isn’t it fortunate I’ve got such an imagination?” said Anne. “It will help me through splendidly, I expect. What do people who haven’t any imagination do when they break their bones, do you suppose, Marilla?”  --Anne of Green Gables

I’m not an expert on politics; I’m not thinking like one these days. I ruminate like the mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter that I am--a person who generally cares about the well-being (physical and spiritual) of all people.
I can safely say that the election-year discourse is killing me.

Facts about me: There is no political party in this country that perfectly matches (or ever has) my own array of moral convictions. Every four years I’m tormented by choices between lesser evils and greater goods. Sometimes the candidate who, on paper, presents the lesser evils is easily identifiable. But he (and yes, I’ll say “he” for simplification’s sake tonight) might act like an ignoramus (or worse, a jerk) half the time he’s on camera. This induces doubt as to his viability as a competent president.
Character matters to me more than anything else, but by “character,” I don’t mean that a candidate can check off a list of values on which both he and I agree; rather, I’ve been reduced to watching the way a candidate responds to interviews and attacks. Is he sarcastic? Derisive? Dismissive? Disrespectful? Hostile? Arrogant? Does he play the blame game? Are his rebuffs simplistic and/or full of holes? Does he comprehend (intellectually, morally, emotionally) the opposing point of view?  Does he demonstrate compassion and goodwill despite disagreement? Does he, instead, vilify his opponents?   

Evidence of good character can also, of course, be ferreted out in the examination of a candidate’s history: How has he treated his employees? his children? his marriage commitment(s)?

I'm worried about a few things: about a president who, in a television interview of all small things, cannot hold his peace and dignity. About a man who could not keep one, two, or three lifelong vows to a single individual and yet wants to woo an entire nation to trust him with the next four years of our livelihoods, our environment, our health.  And I’m worried about any man who is incapable of empathy because, truth be told, the most important things going forward don’t hinge on either party’s political platform or agenda in 2012; what matters are those actual grueling days in office where executive-branch decisions are made in response to crises that were never forseen, were never made a part of public discourse during election year.  What matters is how our next president responds if and when we encounter the next Katrina, the next 9/11, the next stock market crash.
And while I hope it is a resolute compassion among other goods that drive the speech and actions of the man sitting in the Oval Office at that time, I doubt compassion is achieved in the absence of a vivid imagination. And imagination is what I find utterly lacking in many of the GOP* spokespeople, congresspersons, and presidential candidates this year.  

See, it’s imagination that unlocks for a man the raw and vulnerable experience of a woman’s unwanted pregnancy. Imagination pulls back the curtain on a lesbian alone in a hospital room without her best friend, her partner, there to hold her hand, handle affairs of state, make life and death decisions that no other family member can make with the same intimate knowledge of the patient’s wishes. Imagination guts the superhero illusion of our 9/11 first responder volunteers who are now suffering from cancers and other terminal conditions and whose livelihoods and families bear up under the economic stress of a lost income and lost fathers and mothers. And imagination multiplies broken levees by a million residents of New Orleans and comes up with dehydration, hunger, homelessness, disease, rape, murder, mercenaries, racial profiling, the Superdome.
Despite his ethics, despite his secular or Biblical morality, my faith is in the power of imagination to pave the road to compassion, and compassion can out-think the politics box, it can work with people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints; compassion will burn the candles at both ends to get the job done. But if, say, imagination is not to be found in the next president (incumbent or otherwise), how will we heal when America breaks another bone?

*The Democrats aren't all off the hook in my book, either, but they're also not center stage at the moment, making any absences of imagination easier to ignore.

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