Profiles In Courage

This is truly an odd election. While it’s true that every election is unique (as well as “the most important one in history” and will inevitably tally “the most votes ever recorded in a presidential election”), I don’t think we’ve ever seen two tickets where the candidates so perfectly parallel each other — if you switch the top and bottom of one of them.

On each ticket, you have an older white guy who’s been in the Senate for decades. And he’s partnered with someone a couple of decades younger, who’s exciting and different and inspiring and most definitely NOT a white man. One way or another, this November the white male’s lock on the Executive branch is going down — and as a white male, I couldn’t care less.

But there are other parallels, too. Both of the old white guys had their younger lives racked with almost unbearable tragedy.

In 1992 1972, Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate. Before he could take office, his family was involved in a horrible car accident. Biden’s wife and daughter were killed; his two sons were gravely injured (but recovered). Biden almost gave up his Senate seat, but was persuaded to keep it and actually took his oath of office at his son’s bedside.

(For the record, despite Biden’s latest revisions, the accident was NOT caused by a drunk driver.)

As far as John McCain, I keep hearing these rumors that he might have spent some time as a prisoner of war, but I haven’t been able to track them down.

On the other end of those tickets, we have two people who have had to face adversity in their lives, but never confronted with violence and danger and tragedy like Biden and McCain have. Rather, they’ve had opportunities to demonstrate personal courage in other ways, to take chances and be threatened in ways that don’t involve life and death. Both found themselves as part of very corrupt political machines, and had to decide how they would react to each.

Sarah Palin, as a rising star of the Alaskan Republican party, found herself under great pressure to “go along to get along,” and was given a sinecure as a consolation prize after losing the race for lieutenant governor. Instead of quietly collecting her six-figure annual salary and biding her time to be rewarded, she went after the most corrupt officials in her own Republican party. She took on the chairman of the party, the attorney general, and the sitting governor himelf — and took them all down.

Barack Obama came up through the ranks of the Chicago Democratic machine, easily one of the most corrupt regimes in the nation. He found himself rubbing elbows with some of the most venal, greedy, abusive, decadent politicians this nation has ever produced.

And what was his response? He went along to get along. He turned a blind eye to the gross misdeeds that went on all around him, never taking his gaze of his ultimate goal of going beyond Chicago.

Over the weekend, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s chief strategist, went on Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace asked him to cite a single time Obama has seriously challenged his own party’s leadership, and Axelrod was left sputtering and reciting off-topic talking points.

It’s amazing. Barack Obama has made the key point of his campaign “hope and change,” but somehow mainly succeeded in energizing the Republicans to put forward two candidates who have actually brought about change, who have not only stood up to their party’s leadership, but soundly defeated them. And at the same time, the Democrats’ nominees have been revealed as two men who have made a career out of being good team players, of being safe, reliable, consistent party apparatchiks and have been rewarded accordingly for their loyalty.

The choice Americans face this November is getting clearer all the time — and more confusing.

But always more and more entertaining.

Forget football, baseball, NASCAR, hockey, even cornholing. The single greatest American spectator sport is politics, and it’s reasserting its dominance all over again.

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