On the last night of the Democratic convention, before Senator Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech as the Party’s nominee for president, I saw something that I have never before seen in a political ad.
Senator John McCain looks into the camera and congratulates his opponent, Senator Obama, on his achievements. In thirty seconds I couldn’t help but be touched by Mr. McCain’s genuine sincerity expressed in just a few words.
“Tomorrow, we’ll be back at again,” Mr. McCain says “but tonight Senator, job well done!”
And on several occasions, Senator Obama has praised Mr. McCain’s service to his country as both a Viet Nam veteran and U.S. senator.
Now, I realize that after the Republican’s wrap up their own convention, both campaigns will crank-up the machinery in an effort to criticize each others candidates on judgment and ability. But in one moment, unique in political advertisement, John McCain represented the best that a politician can be.
McCain’s comments stand in stark contrast to the malicious rhetoric used with great regularity by conservative author Ann Coulter concerning anything of a Democratic persuasion. Recent example: Senator Obama, whom Coulter refers to as “B. Hussein Obama” (an obvious reference to Saddam Hussein). But this is nothing new for Coulter, a smart and sometimes witty woman who seems to be more interested in stirring up controversy than with anything approaching a reasonable and respectful dialog on the issues.
In her 2004 book, “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must),” she wrote: “I am often asked if I still think we should invade [Middle East] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. The answer is: Now more than ever!”
Coulter excels at turning the political jab into a darkly, sarcastic joke. The only problem is when she consistently defends her words as rational policy instead of humor she becomes mean-spirited, even hateful in the process. She also panders to that segment of society that buys into all the worst fears that her comments create.
Then there are the political pundits.
Several are respectful in their dialog about both the issues and the candidates. Donna Brazile, David Gergen, Jeffrey Toobin, J.C. Watts, and Juan Williams are among those who bring civility to their analysis and inside knowledge.
However, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Arianna Huffington, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are among those whose zealousness can explode into a ridiculous rage that serves no one, least of all a voter looking for clear, dispassionate information. Mr. Hannity and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, seem to wear rudeness as a personal badge of honor when they repeatedly interrupt anyone who disagrees with them.
However, whether you support him or not, Senator John McCain has raised the bar on respect for everyone involved in the political process and that says a lot about his character.
Not taking anything away from Senator Obama’s character, my hope is that during the next eight weeks, both men and their campaigns live up to the highest level of civil discourse.