President Barack Obama has been in office nearly one year, making it two since my late daughter Sarah trudged through a freezing winter in Iowa to help him win the nomination. According to a Gallup poll conducted on the anniversary of the presidential vote, only 28% of Americans still believe that Mr. Obama will be “able to heal political divisions in the country.” A year ago, 54% felt he would be able to do so.
When I read those figures I can’t help thinking about Sarah. For the two of us reflected the country’s political divisions in our own relationship—a case familiar to many American families. As a conservative and an active participant in political conflicts, I am acutely aware of how difficult it is, despite best intentions, to change the tone in the midst of debate, and how many otherwise thoughtful people can be swept up in its lower passions.
Despite our political differences—and the painful distances and predictable frustrations they created—Sarah and I ultimately came to the point where we were able to avoid the rancors of these public imbroglios. By the time she was overtaken by medical complications that derived from a birth defect, and which made efforts like her Iowa campaign extraordinarily difficult, we were quite close. Sarah and I were able to be respectful not only of the fact that we had such differences, but of the reasons why we had them. After her death in March 2008, I decided to write a memoir of her remarkable life, and to include the story of our estrangement and reunion in the hopes it might be helpful to others facing similar divisions.
My daughter was largely responsible for our reconciliation. She wanted to change the world—yet she knew this could only be accomplished one person at a time, and only by respecting the dignity of others.
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