The country's two major political parties convened during the last two weeks to hammer out policy platforms and formally nominate candidates for the presidency and vice presidency.
In accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party to stand for re-election, President Barack Obama said that the two parties present "a choice between two different paths for America. Two fundamentally different visions for the future."
Indeed, the conventions accomplished the job of accentuating key differences between platforms and candidates on a range of vital social, economic and foreign policies — sometimes for the purpose of persuading undecided voters, more often for the purpose of motivating the party faithful.
Although each convention mapped vividly different paths to prosperity — with the Republicans emphasizing the importance of the private sector and Democrats arguing for the vital role of public investments — there was one theme that flowed throughout both conventions: the importance of family in overcoming adversity and shaping character.
For example, both the Republican and Democratic keynote speakers emphasized their immigrant family histories.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., shared, "I am the son of an Irish father and a Sicilian mother. … Mom, who I lost eight years ago, was the enforcer. … She was raised by a single mother who took three buses to get to work every day. … She was tough as nails and didn't suffer fools at all. The truth was she couldn't afford to. She spoke the truth — bluntly, directly and without much varnish. I am her son."
Julian Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, began: "My brother Joaquin and I grew up with my mother, Rosie, and my grandmother, Victoria. My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio, where some relatives had agreed to take her in. She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family. My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a baby sitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one."
First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney each talked of lessons learned from humble family backgrounds. Michelle Obama spoke of how she and Barack were given "something far more valuable" than material possessions, namely their respective families' "unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves."
It was almost an echo of Ann Romney's account of the sacrifice and lessons from her forebears: "My dad would often remind my brothers and me how fortunate we were to grow up in a place like America. He wanted us to have every opportunity that came with life in this country — and so he pushed us to be our best and give our all."
On and on they came, story after story from accomplished public figures about powerful life lessons learned at home: Stories of determined immigrant parents seeking greater reward for their hard work from Republicans Mia Love, Nikki Haley and Mitt Romney himself; stories about families pulling together through crippling crises from Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tammy Duckworth. And this is just a sampling. Each of these short but powerful family histories testified of how those who are closest to us, who love us best, are the most effective at nurture, teaching and motivation.
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There is much that divides our nation ideologically. But if one were to strip back each convention to the most effective and heartfelt personal accounts, they would discover the essence of the American dream: stable, nurturing, healthy family life. Yes, prosperity is undoubtedly an important component of that same American dream, but almost always in the context of what it means for family. And the rules for prosperity seem increasingly fickle, whereas the principles for meaningful family life endure.
May we remember, as we enter the full fray of this election season, that although much divides us, genuine love of and concern for family is one thing that can and does unite us as people, regardless of ideology.