“Some issues are so much bigger than politics,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., at a recent forum for primary contenders in Iowa. “Culture is downstream from politics,” is how former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum put it before baring his soul at the same event.
That’s exactly what moderator Frank Luntz asked the candidates to do: share personal stories about challenges they’ve faced. Santorum chose to talk about fatherhood and his youngest daughter, Isabella Maria, who was born with a condition known as Trisomy 18.
Santorum dealt with the stress of the diagnosis with a novel but painful method: “To not love her ... because it wouldn’t hurt as much if I lost her,” he remembered. Holding her finger as she lay on an emergency room table at 5 months of age, Santorum realized his mistake. “I had seen her as less of a person because of her disability. I prayed at that moment, ‘Please, please let her live.’ Santorum’s daughter survived the operation, leaving him with a renewed passion for children like his daughter.
“One of the reasons I am here tonight is because of Obamacare and to fight for kids with disabilities,” Santorum added.
Before Sarah Palin became a household name in the lower 48, the then-governor of Alaska had a webpage dedicated to welcoming her son Trig Palin, who has Down syndrome. There, parents, siblings and others wrote about how beautifully challenging life with a Down syndrome child can be. They explained how their lives were richer. Grandparents in New York wrote of their grandson: “He has shown us an inner strength to never give up. The best things in life come to us unexpectedly.”
On the campaign trail, Palin would encounter these feelings all the more. In her book “Going Rogue,” she wrote: “It blessed me in ways I can’t even describe to be able to help bring (people with Down syndrome) from the fringe into the bright spotlight that most often seems reserved only for the privileged.”
Both the Santorums and the Palins were faced with odds stacked against life. Not only the daunting medical conditions of their children, but a culture — including a medical one — that seeks to eliminate problems, even if the “problems” are people. Palin has admitted that she was unprepared for raising a child with Down syndrome, and for a brief moment she was painfully aware that abortion offered a way out. The Santorums, meanwhile, had to insist their daughter be given oxygen as a doctor urged that they learn to “let go.”
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It’s an imperfect world. And sometimes the innocence of a child and her challenges can make all the difference: inspiring us to be better, holding up a mirror on our souls — and our culture and politics.
The Thanksgiving and family-themed forum didn’t get as much attention as some others because fellow candidate Mitt Romney wasn’t in attendance. But it carried a message that demands to be heard, about who we are and how we live our lives and who we love and why we do so; about leadership and whether we choose to live life in such a way that it helps others do the same.
At that same event, current GOP “It boy” Newt Gingrich brought it back to the health care debate: “Do I want a country that cares about every life?” he asked.
That’s what it’s all about. Politics of the people, by the people, motivated by love for people, making sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable people — not forgetting people, including those closest to us. When we remember that, we might just have a fighting chance of getting the policies right.
Lopez is the editor of National Review Online
(www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org