By John Mark Reynolds
Let me tell you about the woman I was lucky enough to marry.
Hope graduated with honors from an excellent private college. She is an outstanding trumpet player and a fine teacher in a private school. She has worked with college students for over a decade helping them become better students and people.
She chose to have four children and is raising them splendidly. Her homeschooling has given them a fine classical education and an appreciation of virtue. She has been involved in putting together support organizations for students like her children and giving advice to new mothers.
She reads widely and keeps well-informed on the issues of the day. She has attended education and philosophy seminars in many U.S. states and several countries.
Almost none of this work has been paid. As a result, she is frequently stereotyped by people who will not bother to know her and insist on measuring the value of work by the size of the paycheck. Her experience in forming organizations, keeping them alive and helping them flourish is discounted, because the organizations were not centered around money-making or governance.
Her wisdom and insight gained from talking to hundreds of young men and women is often trivialized, because she gained it by listening to conversations at a dining room table and not in an office.
People will often assume that she has no interest or knowledge in current events or societal crises, because she did not gain her wisdom in organizational structures that they acknowledge.
This has often made me angry, but she has remained cheerful despite it all. Her success in the social sphere has given her a measure of confidence and she does not get her self-worth from others.
The Three Spheres of Activity
Cultures are built through at least three spheres of activity. The first area of important work is government. The second is business. The third, nearly forgotten by some but no less vital than the others, is the social sphere that includes the family, volunteer work, and all the social services that are not produced by the state or by business.
It is good for a nation when the three spheres interlock and when wisdom from one type of experience enriches the work of another. There is, of course, expertise gained through concentrated activity in one area of activity. The different seasons of a person’s life means that he or she will often find himself moving from one type of activity to another. For a few years a man or woman may do mostly unpaid work in the social sphere and in another season paid work in the world of business.
Success in one sphere does not guarantee success in another, but there are rare individuals who can “do more than one thing.” Such people should be cherished, because they bring fresh insights to old systems along with their competence. We recognize this easily when an outstanding business leader like Mitt Romney moves from paid employment to the government sector. Business frequently hires aging political stars as Disney did with Senator George Mitchell, chairman of the board in the nineties.
We are not so good at seeing it when an outstanding social and civic leader like Sarah Palin moves into government. We discount everything she did that was not in the governmental or paid business arena.
That is foolish and wrong.
The Sarah Palin Woman
Sarah Palin was part of her family business, a community leader, and became an outstanding political leader. She is star in every area, something people who knew her in each role quickly recognized.
She is the rare talent who can navigate all three worlds (social, business, and government) and can flourish.
She is a quick study and brings to each role the insights gained from other spheres of success. There are truths mothers learn and she learned them well. There are things you learn doing hard physical labor in a family business and she learned those. There are vital insights you gain running social organizations that are not centered in profit and Palin grasped those. There is something you gain when you are the chief executive of a state larger than most nations and Palin flourished there.
Based only on her political experience, Palin would commend herself to America, but that is not all she is. To pretend that this is so is to denigrate the importance of the work of millions of Americans, most of them women. Not all these women can move from one area to another as Palin has done, but they will know how blessed we are to have in Palin a woman who can do so.
Palin brings the home-truths to government, but also governs well. Her government experience is vital to indicate to us that she is ready for this bigger government job, but her outstanding success in civic, family, and business areas should not be discounted or viewed with a patronizing attitude.
She is a person whose life did not consist merely of being an outstanding community leader, family leader, and business leader, but it includes success in all those roles with proven competence in governance.
She is a Renaissance woman, but for some bigots if that breadth of experience was not gained in paid employment or only in government than it counts less or does not count at all. That is offensive, though hard-working women like Palin mostly ignore it and cheerfully go on being awesomely competent.
My wife is one of those millions of women and she sees in many sneers about Palin (reducing this brilliant woman to the “beauty queen”) yet another example of some peoples inability to value her experience. The Democratic Party should be warned that they are playing with electoral fire if they act as if all of Palin’s life experience is not of value. My wife will not get mad, but she is getting active.
These women organize, they vote, and like Palin they often have large numbers of built-in precinct workers called children.
Let me stress that it is not that they believe that just any individual leader in the social sphere could be president. They do think their experience should not be ignored in the rare case of a brilliant talent who can do both.
Should we be shocked that this is possible? We have long allowed military and business background to be brought to the table. This is natural in the case of military experience since the president (the role the vice president must be prepared to fulfill) is commander in chief, but other experience must count given the present reach of government.
For good or bad, the modern state now deeply impacts the business world. Business leaders rightly rejoice when “one of their own” who understands this impact shows that rare and precious ability to switch spheres of activity and make their concerns known in the halls of governing power. Not all business leaders can manage the switch, as H. Ross Perot proved, but some can.
Mitt Romney, the man I backed for president, was no more qualified by government experience to be president than Sarah Palin . . . if we only count their time in politics. However, Romney’s business background was correctly seen as a huge asset by most Americans. He faced little “qualifications” buzz though he was only a one-term governor of Massachusetts.
That was proper.
There should be no double standard for Sarah Palin’s equally rich non-governmental experience. The fact that she has not spent her entire adult life in government is a good thing . . . providing we also know (as we do) that she can make the transition.
Does the government impact our social structures and families any less that it impacts business?
Are the skills gained in the PTA, civic leadership in small towns, and in family business of less value than those of the corporate tycoon?
Shouldn’t every person rejoice that social policies and decisions will be made in a McCain administration with at least one person at the table who has shown outstanding civic, social, family, and business competence?
Where have we seen such a model for leadership training commended? Palin herself, and the millions of leaders like her, could tell you. Read Proverbs 31 and realize what she did for the years she was not a full-time government worker. Know how greatly a healthy culture values this work. Then stop and be stunned that for a decade and a half Sarah Palin showed that a few of these Proverbs 31 women can also be political dynamite.
Women like Palin do not ask for respect, they earn it. They may not like it when their previous work is denigrated, but they move on. That is wise.
That does not mean that the rest of us have to put up with narrow-minded foolishness that thinks only paid work gives valuable experience, that writing your own autobiography twice is always more interesting than helping run the family business and educating your kids, or that chattering as a guest on Sunday talk shows gives a better education than doing hard physical labor.
A wise culture would look at the sum of Sarah Palin’s life and her experience and be thrilled to say:
“Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
By John Mark Reynolds