There are moments in politics that make you say, “Really?” One such moment came this week, courtesy of John Oxendine.
There on YouTube was the state insurance and fire commissioner, in a hospital room with his wife, Ivy, and infant son, Jake, who’d been born just hours earlier Wednesday. Mrs. Oxendine reclines in bed, still in blue scrubs. The proud papa looks down at little Jake and jokes that they want him to sleep this well in the months and years to come.
It’s a tender moment. But Oxendine doesn’t leave it alone.
“When I see this,” he now tells the camera, “and my other three kids, it reminds me of why it’s important that I run for governor, and why it’s important that we transform government. … We need your help. Thank you.”
“Transforming government,” when many parents would still be counting toes? A GOP candidate who touts family values turns the maternity ward into a studio for a campaign spot?
Stunned, I called campaign manager Tim Echols for an explanation. Echols seemed equally surprised that I had to ask.
“The feedback that we’ve gotten is good,” he told me Thursday. “Ivy and John are excited about the prospects of being the first family of Georgia, of raising their child in the Governor’s Mansion, of being transparent.”
Decide for yourself: Search “john oxendine baby jake” at YouTube.com. But here are my thoughts about that use of “transparent,” and what it means for our politics when all that’s private becomes political.
Yes, sunlight is the best disinfectant for government. But let’s not kid ourselves. Transparency in politics is about matters like who contributes to a campaign and whether the rhetoric matches reality.
Yes, we want to know our candidates inside and out. Their personal beliefs invariably come into play on issues like abortion and stem cell research.
But just because a politician uses social-networking technology to show a bit of his personal side doesn’t mean we really know more about him. The message, whatever the medium, is still managed.
It is possible for pols to have some grace in revealing themselves. Sen. John McCain, who doesn’t need to show off his scarred body for us to know he speaks with authority about torture, comes to mind. So does Gov. Sonny Perdue, who hasn’t had to drag his Baptist pastor son onto campaign stages to let us know he’s a man of faith.
Yet this goes beyond ham-handedness. The kind of transparency that amounts to a renunciation of privacy strikes me as putting us one step closer to having a professional political class.
How many people, seeing the scrutiny of politicians’ personal lives, decide public office just isn’t worth it? When the standard is whether you’d film a campaign ad at something as intimate as your daughter’s wedding or your grandson’s confirmation, we’re mostly left with those candidates willing to structure their entire lives around getting into office.
Some of those candidates will have altruistic goals. John Oxendine may be one of them. But our politics suffers when we pull the political animals out of the herd.
The blur between public and private lives is even culling some of the political animals. By all accounts, Sarah Palin quit the Alaska governorship in part because of the toll that media intrusion was taking on her family.
The political life is enough of a fish bowl for politicians’ families — ask Bristol Palin, Jenny Sanford, Silda Spitzer, Chelsea Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards — without inviting millions of strangers into your hospital room.
Call me quaint, but I don’t see the family values in selling your own family.