Sandy blows in and Romney bows out
Why do Democrats seem to do compassion so much better than Republicans? Is that they are innately more kind, considerate and empathetic than their political opponents? Or are they're just better actors; more accomplished at suiting the action to the word and the word to the action; better at holding the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure?
Look very carefully at the above picture. Could you see Mitt Romney doing that? George W Bush? Bob Dole? John McCain? Sarah Palin? The question is not, of course, to suggest that Republicans are incapable or devoid of feeling, but in public expression, compared to Obama, Clinton, Carter, Kennedy...
This visual media connectivity is crucial to political campaigning in this age of sensing, feeling and intuiting. Hurricane Sandy may well have put President Obama in full performance mode, but it is supreme 'Method' acting: his body, face and emotions are truthful. There is no alientation, hypocrisy or objective indication: he believes, so we believe.
Poor Mitt Romney has been lost in the whirlwind, for no sincere Republican can criticise the President's compassion without themselves seeming heartless and unfeeling. While Obama is hugging, comforting and weeping with those who weep, Romney is handing out brown paper bags full of food, water and emergency provisions. Both contributions are, of course, beneficial and necessary in a grievous state of emergency, but the cameras are drawn only to one: they feed off the star quality of charisma; drinking each box-office flick of emotion.
Obama's warm, tender hand brings to mind one of the supremest expressions of God's compassion ever painted:
This is Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son. And this is from the incomparable reflection upon that painting by Henri Nouwen:
The father's left hand touching the son's shoulder is strong and muscular. The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son's shoulder and back. I can see a certain pressure, especially in the thumb. That hand seems not only to touch, but, with its strength, also to hold. Even though there is a gentleness in the way the father's left hand touches his son, it is not without a firm grip.Sandy has breathed, and the Republicans are scattered. The US Presidential Election is suddenly no longer about the details of policy, hard economic facts, lawyerly legislation or tedious taxation, for these belong to the hollow world of politics. Sandy has blown in, and the demand now is for love, compassion and empathy, and Obama is both mother and father of the nation. The campaign has been abruptly 'feminised' for those who now yearn for spiritual comfort. Both Obama and Romney now need to be androgynous, expressing both male and female at a glance. But only one is truly in touch with his 'feminine side': the hand says it all.
How different is the father's right hand! This hand does not hold or grasp. It is refined, soft, and very tender. The fingers are close to each other and they have an elegant quality. It lies gently upon the son's shoulder. It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother's hand...
As soon as I recognized the difference between the two hands of the father, a new world of meaning opened up for me. The Father is not simply a great patriarch. He is mother as well as father. He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand. He holds, and she caresses. He confirms and she consoles. He is , indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present. That gentle and caressing right hand echoes for me the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the chile she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.