Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deplore the ideas, not the person

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I do not want Joe Biden to be vice president of the United States. Even before Sen. Barack Obama invited Biden to address the Democratic National Convention as his nominee for second-in-command, I found Biden’s liberal politics and blustering, loquacious style to be unpalatable.

But whenever I think of Biden as a person, I cannot eclipse from my mind the events of December 18, 1972. Biden was thirty years old and had just been elected to his first term in the Senate. His wife, Neilia, was driving home with a Christmas tree for the family. A tractor-trailer smashed into her car, killing Neilia and the Bidens’ one-year-old daughter, Naomi. Joe Biden was sworn in as a senator at the hospital bedside of one of his sons, who was badly injured in the crash.

There is much to dislike in what Obama and Biden represent. Their policy prescriptions and campaign rhetoric combine vague platitudes about the future with astounding self-regard. Together, they are Hope and Arrogance. But they are still human beings, with wants and fears and sorrows and joys no different from anyone reading this column.

While a person’s sad history may disarm us of hostility, however, it does not constitute a qualification for office.

For example, I do not want Sen. John McCain to be president just because he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (although critics of his age may wish to spot the Senator 5½ years for the time he spent in the worst place on Earth). Rather, I believe he is the best person on offer to lead the free world.

When voters and politicians recognize in one another the suffering of a life lived, hatred and blind admiration are banished, and candidates rise or fall on the strength of their policies. This is as it should be.

Deplore the ideas, not the person. In general, this is more difficult for left-wingers, largely because so few of them have ever been on the other side of the ideological spectrum. The public square contains vastly more conservatives who were once liberals than the reverse. Churchill’s maxim that a person who is not a conservative by age 30 has no brain, while uncharitable, simply means that a right-of-center worldview is the natural result of a modicum of study.

It requires less learning to be left-wing. Political correctness is uncomplicated and its liturgies are easily memorized. So, simple hatreds are liberals’ playthings.

The most egregious recent case of this is the mass-hysterical hatred of George W. Bush. Dubbed Bush Derangement Syndrome by commentators, the condition causes folks to assign bloodthirsty motives and, paradoxically, monumental stupidity and otherworldly powers to the fellow whose present misfortune it is to reside in the White House. This is short-sighted and demonstrably ineffective.

Opponents of the Iraq war may not care, for example, that Bush watched his little sister, Robin, die of leukemia when she was three years old. But they might be more effective critics of Bush’s policies if they gave more thought to his humanity.

Obama and Biden are the wrong people to lead America. They are people, though, and that merits our respect.