It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I realize how fortunate I was to be born in America. No, we haven’t always gotten things right in this country. We tolerated slavery and we brutally took lands and the dignity of the indigenous people who were here before us. But when the history books are written, America will still stand as the greatest beacon of freedom and opportunity that has yet emerged on planet Earth.
As a child I realized I was different from my classmates. My dad was just a working stiff with a high school diploma. My classmates’ fathers were doctors with lucrative practices. Mom got a job so that I could have a private school education and piano lessons. My classmates’ moms were busy organizing the color co-ordination for the next cotillion. The dining room in our rent-controlled apartment alternated as my bedroom when the Castro convertible sofa on which I slept was pulled out. My classmates had their own bedrooms in their Park and Fifth Avenue cooperatives. My grandmother was our cook and cleaning lady – but she had also worked for people in that capacity who had the wealth and status that my classmates’ families enjoyed.
If there was one thing that I learned from my parents and grandmother it was to believe that in America anyone could make as much or as little of herself or himself as they chose. I have clung to that belief through many years because I have seen that it is true. My faith in that idea has never waivered – until the last few years.
I have never been a fan of hoopla whether that takes the form of the introduction of a new fantastic product or a political convention. It was for that reason that I only reluctantly tuned into the Republican National Convention this week. I am glad that I did.
Listening to Condoleezza Rice describe her experience as a child in Birmingham, AL, being refused food service because she was a black child and looking at what this remarkable woman has accomplished despite her disadvantages and the prejudice with which she grew up helped restore my faith in my childhood American dream.
Listening to Sen. Marco Rubio describe how he could hear the clanking of his father’s keys as he came home late at night after working as a banquet bartender so that he could provide for his family and give them an education and the opportunity that he knew they would never have had in his native Cuba inspired me to believe that there is still hope for this great land.
But neither of these eloquent speakers is running for President of the United States. Mitt Romney is – and while there are many things to be said for his candidacy – his ability to rouse a crowd through a stirring speech is not one of them. He is not a Demosthenes nor is he a Ronald Reagan.
But perhaps Governor Romney has something that is even more valuable than a great ability to make speeches – and that is a basic caring about other people – a deep sense of compassion and humanity. That was my takeaway from the testimonials that were presented by people who had known him and whom he had helped.
To me that is the most endearing and genuine quality that we need in someone who is a true leader. That is what gives me hope – that there are still caring people in this world who practice what they preach and do so without self-adulation. To me that is what has been lacking in America for the last four years.
In the history of humanity we have always had false prophets who eloquently made false promises. Ultimately we have found that the rainmakers and the snake oil salesmen are peddling a worthless product.
This November we have a very clear cut choice to make.
Do we want to allow our decision for whom we vote to be determined by eloquence or by accomplishment? It seems a very obvious choice to me – but that’s only because I will always go with substance over style.