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Selfishness vs. self-sacrifice

Christina Pesavento | Monday, September 8, 2008

As I watched John McCain give his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, I was struck, not just by this man’s story of exceptional strength in the face of fierce adversity, but by how drastically it differed from that of his rival. To be fair, Barack Obama’s rise to political fame is inspirational as well. The difference, though, lies here: One man has clearly dedicated his life to serving his country; the other, not so much his country as himself.Obama’s life journey reads like a fairytale. The self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” that later becomes the first African American to be nominated by a major party for the office of the presidency. And there are surprisingly few steps in between: Columbia graduate, community organizer, Harvard Law graduate, lawyer, constitutional law lecturer, state senator, U.S. senator.Yet what troubles me about Obama is that he has done nothing that separates him from the crowd, at least before gaining prominence by speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Nothing in his background suggests that he has gained the wisdom necessary to lead a nation, let alone the most powerful nation on earth. Never has his judgment been put to the test, nor has he truly had to sacrifice his own well-being for the sake of others. In fact, most of his life seems to have a particularly self-interested slant.And what does he have to show for it?Well, he graduated from two celebrated institutes of higher education. He was the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review. He helped draft a few insignificant pieces of legislation as a state senator. Oh, and prior to that, he wrote an autobiography. Again, personal gain is the focus here.Now I’m not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with the pursuit of self-interest; in fact, our nation was built upon it. It is embodied in the proverbial American Dream. Millions of immigrants risked everything for a glimpse of Lady Liberty lifting her lamp, guiding them to the shores of a land where freedom and opportunity reign, in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Furthermore, our continued dedication to free-market capitalism has resulted in unfathomable progress by channeling selfish impulses toward the betterment of society as a whole.Finding a politician who harbors no narcissistic tendencies is an extreme rarity, especially when it comes to presidential elections. Anyone who volunteers to assume the role of leader of the free world must think rather highly of him or herself. But this year is different. This year, we have a candidate who nearly sacrificed everything for his country. And, like he says, he has the scars to prove it.Which brings me back to the speech. Sure, McCain is no great orator; Obama’s speaking style far outshines his rival’s. After getting off to a shaky start, however, McCain’s account of his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam was truly moving. He didn’t need to prop up vacant promises and hollow achievements with fancy rhetoric because his actions speak loudly enough to stand alone.There was a time in his life, McCain admits, when he didn’t think there was a cause more important than himself. But five years of imprisonment and torture taught him otherwise. When he vows to fight for his country for as long as he draws breath, there is no question his promise is genuine. Throughout his many years as a senator, McCain’s devotion to America and its people, rather than to his party or to himself, remains just as steadfast as ever.On the other hand, when Obama claims that this election “has never been about me; it’s about you,” I can’t help but doubt his sincerity. This is a man who falsely claimed that his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz; who spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, where President Reagan demanded that Gorbachev “tear down this wall;” who tried to use a logo resembling the presidential seal during a roundtable discussion with Democratic governors; who announced his candidacy at the Old State Capitol where President Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech.Talk about audacity. As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer asks, “Has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?” The answer is no.Our country needs a hero. Not one who seeks to use the opportunities it offers for service of himself, but one who has sacrificed for an idea greater than himself, whose every waking moment is dedicated to serving his fellow Americans. John McCain is that hero.

Christina Pesavento is a junior American studies major. She can be contacted at cpesavent@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.