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Politics Should Demand More, Deserve Better

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There is an untold story about the failed effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and it centers on Hooters.

The restaurant known for its immodestly attired waitresses played a role in the election, when Walker foes decided to make the past job of a young staffer on his team a campaign issue.

So now when you Google Ciara Matthews' name, "Former Hooters Girl," along with an old MySpace photo, come up. Somehow that she has worked for a pro-life political action committee made it all the more delicious a news story. The only news in this sad, pathetic affair is that it exposed the desperate lengths some will go to in politics.

Matthews came away a winner, as did her candidate, who found himself subject to malicious rumors at the 11th hour. But Matthews' Internet stamp exists as a cautionary tale and challenge: We ask a lot of people in the public eye. That's politics today. But it goes deeper than that -- such judgment and scandal-mongering is a temptation humans fall to all too often, albeit 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 erroneous or manipulated material. We all too often don't take into consideration our shared humanity.

Back in 2007, when fewer people were paying attention, future first lady Ann Romney gave a speech about just this: the "bag of rocks" our neighbor -- or political foe -- carries. Mrs. Romney, who struggles with multiple sclerosis, illuminates the hidden struggles so many around us have. Even in our self-revealing age, we often never know what pain our neighbor is bearing. "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 would explain 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 the boat goes off a waterfall. In the five years since I first heard that speech, we've about reached that point.

Speaking at the jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, talked about 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."

Politics is frequently panned by the understandably cynical as good for nothing, most especially the soul of man. 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 echoed St. 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 the employee of someone you oppose. 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 England (which I'm involved with on these shores), was asked whether his colleagues receive hate mail when they appear on TV making the case for the Catholic Church's position on issues like gay marriage. They don't, he said, because their presentation seeks to be ego-free. 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, as the rhetorical gladiators do on "Crossfire."

Civic life isn't for the perfect. But the political life can be a noble and even holy path. We should expect more of our politics, and be intolerant toward tactics that pervert it into a means of destruction.

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