Secret Pop

Sep 2, 2008

This began as a response to a comment thread on one of my friend Steve's Facebook notes.

I'm tired of all the talk about the importance of values as if they trump all other decision-making factors. Ultimately, the job of President is a job. And the qualifications and experience one has, including past job experience and past life experience, are relevant in the job interview process. You don't go to a job interview and expect to get hired just because you go to the same church as your boss or just because you both like the Mets. That might help pave the way to the conversation beginning, but eventually, you're going to be asked what you bring to the table. You'll be expected to have real accomplishments under your belt. And you'll also be expected to be able to balance whatever's going on in your life in such a way that nothing personal ever seeps into your job performance. That's what millions of working people contend with. Some of them even contend with drug tests and background checks and credit history reports. Because what you've done and where you've been matters in certain jobs. And here we are, examining applicants for the highest executive office in the country. And suddenly, we're not supposed to care what the candidate's actual skills and experience are? We're supposed to applaud her because she believes in this, but we're not supposed to care that she believes in that?

What I don't like about this discussion is that -- in my experience (and my parents watch nothing in their home but Fox News and Dancing with the Stars) -- many conservatives exhibit a sense of triumph when they can ferret out the personal failings and scandals of liberal candidates, but conservative candidates with the same personal failings and scandals are applauded. I suspect there are plenty of conservatives who share Sarah Palin's moral values but who are still disappointed to learn about her daughter's choices. The conservatives I know email me every time they find a blog that says Obama is a Muslim. But not a one of them has emailed me to talk about whether Sarah Palin is a good choice. It's like we're not allowed to openly discuss our opinions about these people despite the fact that one day, two of them are going to lead ALL OF US. I have just as much right to want John McCain to pick a qualified VP, because if he ends up President, I still have to live in the country the two of them run. It's relevant for us to talk about it. It's reasonable for us to ask questions. ALL OF US. Wouldn't it be beautiful if we could all actually talk about it without the iron curtain of partisanship dividing us? I would think every American would hope that both candidates would pick a great running mate, no matter who they personally support. We don't always get to choose our bosses at work, and when you find out your boss has hired some other person to exercise authority over you, it certainly helps the relationship if that person merits your respect and can wield your loyalty in a positive way. Why would this be any less true for the running of the country?

Sometimes, I think the values issue is exactly what gunks up the debate. I think it's possible for a person to be against abortion but to not actively try and legislate against it. In the same way that it is possible for a person to be against pre-marital sex without insisting that it be made illegal. Your personal values shouldn't influence every choice you make as a public servant. Our shared value -- the protection of the Constitution -- is the one value that should supersede all others. You may not like the idea of gays getting married. You might even believe it's morally wrong. But that doesn't mean the Constitution doesn't attempt to offer all Americans the same protections and the same rights. You may be someone who once believed that Blacks and Whites should not marry either. At this point, I hope you know you were wrong to believe that. And if you don't, I hope you aren't serving in public office. And if you are, I hope you at least realize that you are able to believe that your bathtub is the Oracle of Delphi as long as you don't bring it to work with you. I don't want to know about your religion. I don't want to know what brand of greeting card you buy. I don't want to know your favorite color or whether you like Thai food late at night. I don't care about that. At least not at the time of the job interview or at the periodic subsequent performance reviews. At the job interview, I just want to know what kind of worker you are and whether you are willing and able to do the job you are interviewing for. Once you're hired, we can go out to a micro-brewery and you can tell me all about what you believe and whether you own a cat and what your dining room window looks out on and whether you were able to get a Wii. There's always the risk at this point that you will refuse my invitation to go to a micro-brewery because you frown on the consumption of alcoholic beverages, at which time I will make a mental note to never invite you anywhere ever again. And that will significantly hamper our ability to be best friends. But we'll still work together fine. I mean, it's work, right?

And that is the most important lesson of all. We shouldn't be trying to elect the guy who is most like us or who shares our personal philosophies. We're not going to be best friends with him. If you want a best friend, sign up for a social network. Facebook is open to everyone now. Or join a community sports league. Or hang out at Borders and talk to strangers in the section of books that most interests you. This is the time you should be looking to hire the best man for the job. And, believe it or not, the job you are hiring for isn't "best friend." You're not hiring a guy to be your neighbor or to try new restaurants with you every Thursday. You'll probably never even see this guy once he gets started. What you should care about is whether he knows how to do what he needs to do. And whether he is resourceful enough to solve the problems you weren't able to anticipate in the interview process. And in the event he has to step down, you want to make sure that his understudy will be able to step in smoothly and finish the work he started. So the two of them should definitely have a lot of similar qualifications. You might even want to pick the runner-up for the job, since they were already almost good enough. Or you could focus on that guy's religious beliefs, get spooked by them, and pick someone by drawing up a game of M.A.S.H. Be careful, though. That's how you end up living in a shack, driving an ice cream truck to your job as a mailman. Also, you have eight kids and a pet hamster. Sorry.

Anyway, as a woman, I wish I could be encouraged by the selection of a woman on the GOP ticket. But the fact that Sarah Palin is a woman who doesn't support my reproductive rights is a problem for me. I don't mind that she doesn't believe I should have them. But I do mind that she would actively seek to take them away. That makes it hard for me to think of her as "one of us." I would never blindly vote for a woman just because of her gender. That's as foolish as not voting for one just because of her gender. I'm also bemused by the double standard. Conservatives who disliked Hillary Clinton were often unable to simply not like her politics. Some of them shouted things out like "make me a sandwich," and pundits in the media even offered that one of her barriers to acceptance might be that the shrillness of her voice would remind men of the nagging wives they'd sooner forget. Are we meant to believe that these gender-specific barriers wouldn't apply to Sarah Palin just because she's prettier* than Hillary Clinton? That's about the most sexist and ignorant possibility of all. Are we really suggesting that the glass ceiling is being broken by John McCain? If there are truly millions of cracks in the glass ceiling, I suspect it's because the fat cats dancing on it have been eating more fried foods.

Incidentally, I'm voting for Obama and Biden.

*Prettier? Maybe. But does anyone dislike polar fleece as much as I do?

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