Finally, isn’t all life a matter of balancing our social and individual commitments? Biology makes concern for the individual the woman’s role. She works day by day to shape one or two or, possibly, several lives. The man does the corporate things: managing a farm or a business, out there in the world, influencing more lives less. But human beings are uniquely able to escape biological destiny, and in our age able to escape it almost entirely. Almost. A man cannot give birth or breast feed an infant. That has to make a difference.

But men also have to make choices. I could have gone into politics and government and influenced a lot of people a little, or become a parish priest and influenced fewer people more. And sometimes the choice becomes more immediate. I remember reading some years ago of a college president whose wife had Altzheimers disease. He resigned his position to fulfill the commitment he had made to his wife “for better for worse. in sickness and in health.” No doubt he could have delegated his academic role to someone else but he chose not to.

And that’s the choice Sarah Palin has had to make. Infants need to be held. Seventeen year-olds need to know someone loves them. Is that something you can delegate? Could she do more good at home or as Governor of Alaska – or on the campaign trail, or as President? Had Palin stayed home, would her daughter have known she was loved and made different choices? If she stays in politics, will she make such a difference for so many that the cost to her immediate family is worth it?

These are very personal decisions that have been placed front and center in the public arena. Ideally, we should not have to ask whether a candidate should be running at all. If we do, it isn’t our decision as to whether her family is or will be neglected by the demands of office; it’s whether public affairs will be neglected by the demands of a family. We can’t be concerned by the damage done to her family; we can be concerned about the damage that may be done to our country.

When Grover Cleveland ran for president against James G, Blaine, it was noised about that Cleveland had an illegitimate child. Republicans chanted, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” And Democrats responded that they thought Cleveland should be elected to the public office for which he was so well qualified and Blaine should be returned to the private life to which he was so eminently suited.

But here the going gets tricky. Would we have elected Kennedy if we had known about his private life? Would we have been better off with Nixon? Gary Harte wasn’t nominated when we learned what he was up to in private, but John McCain has survived the discovery that he tells obscene jokes at public gatherings. Do we like Joe Biden better because he goes home every night to be with his family? And what message are we sending to hockey moms and seventeen year olds if we nominate or elect Sarah Palin? What message do we send to young African American boys about what’s possible for them if we nominate or elect Barack Obama?

It seems that we are not simply choosing a candidate but endorsing a lifestyle. And are these more important issues than the candidate’s wisdom and ability when it comes to the economy, the environment, and foreign relationships? The potential nomination of Sarah Palin puts these questions front and center.

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