Politics & Policy

Total Recall

Wisconsin and the queen's jubilee.

Hooters is the untold story of the Wisconsin recall. 

The restaurant known for its immodestly attired waitresses played a role in last week’s election, when opponents of now-non-recalled governor Scott Walker decided to make a campaign issue out of the employment history of a young staffer on his team. 

So, now when you google Ciara Matthews’s name, “Former Hooters Girl,” along with an old MySpace photo, comes up. That she has worked for a pro-life political-action committee somehow made it all the more delicious a news story. Daisy Duke isn’t free to be pro-life, even in the eyes of those who proclaim women’s “choice” their highest value. The only newsworthy fact about dredging up an old personal website of a college girl who wasn’t even old enough to drink at the time was the way it exposed the desperate lengths some will go to.

In the end, though, it also exposed a tendency all too prevalent in our political and cultural lives. Matthews wound up on the winning side of the campaign, as did her candidate, who found himself subject to malicious rumors at the eleventh hour. But her lingering Internet stamp is a cautionary tale and a challenge: We ask a lot of people in the public eye. That’s politics. And it’s, of course, more than that. It’s a temptation we’re all too often susceptible to, just not always to such nasty and public extremes. 

We make assumptions. We make rash judgments. We go by first impressions, some of which are based on efforts to manipulate our perceptions, for good or for ill. We all too often don’t take into consideration our shared humanity.

Back in 2007, our next first lady, Ann Romney, gave a speech about just this, about the “bag of rocks” our neighbors — or political foes — carry, not always in clear sight. Mrs. Romney, who struggles with multiple sclerosis, illuminated the hidden struggles so many around us have. Even in our self-revelatory age, we often never know what pain our neighbor bears. “Sometimes we’re a little too critical, a little too quick to judge,” she warned. Surely there is some room for a little mercy and redemption in our political lives.

Mrs. Romney’s speech ended with a cliffhanger of sorts. She explained her view of Washington as “a group of people traveling around in a rowboat.” Instead of going about the business of getting somewhere, oars in the water, folks are “banging each other over the head” with them. A little cooperation is in order before hitting the waterfall. In the five years since I first heard that speech, we’ve about reached that waterfall.

Speaking at the jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth on June 5, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, focused on the meaning of dedication: “to be absolutely removed from other uses, being completely available to God.” Dedication, he said, involves “a genuine embrace of those others, a willingness to be made happy by the well-being of our neighbors. . . . Dedication to the service of a community certainly involves that biblical sense of an absolute purge of selfish goals, but it is also the opening of a door into shared riches.” The queen’s six decades of service, he said, are “living proof that public service is possible and that it is a place where happiness can be found.”

Can we bring such a spirit to our civic life? Politics is frequently panned by the understandably cynical as “good for nothing” — most especially, for our souls. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The archbishop looked toward a future of a “rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.” He spoke in terms that echoed Saint Paul: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us — the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Outdo one another in showing honor; extend hospitality to strangers; rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep; live in harmony with one another; take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”

Show honor, even to your opponent’s communications director. At a training session for some young people in Virginia last month, Jack Valero, co-founder of Catholic Voices, a successful media-evangelization program in Britain (which I’m involved with in the U.S.), was asked whether individuals identified as Voices get hate mail when they appear on TV making the case for the Catholic Church’s position on neuralgic issues like gay marriage. They don’t, he said, because their presentation seeks to be ego-free. Their work is greater than themselves, and therefore the means they use to communicate are every bit as important as the substance of what they’re saying. Their approach is not expressly Catholic; it is, rather, based on common decency, on finding the positive intention in the person you’re conversing with or trying to reach. It’s not going for the jugular. It’s a difference that could make all the difference.

The political life can be a noble and even holy path. We should expect more of our politics, and refuse to tolerate tactics that pervert it into something cruel.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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