Raise the Bar

In October 2008, the republican Presidential Nominee, Senator John McCain, was trailing Senator Barack Obama by a wide and growing margin. The 72-year-old Senator was losing to a younger man beaming with promise, bubbling with energy and all but bound to make history as the first black president. As a mere candidate, Senator Obama was already an icon for hope, progress and a brighter American future.

After over a year of political battle spanning miles of road, multitudes of voters and myriad ideas, Senator McCain found himself in front of a fearful crowd in Minnesota facing certain defeat. The crowd was not simply scared of an Obama Presidency, but of Obama himself. Some shouted that Senator McCain's opponent was a terrorist and a liar. When Senator McCain told the crowd that they did not have to be scared of Senator Obama, audience members shouted "[c]ome on, John!" Things came to a head when one supporter explained her distrust of the Democratic Nominee:

Supporter: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not-, he's an Arab.

Senator McCain: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about.

At the time, some criticized Senator McCain for suggesting that Senator Obama could not be an Arab, because he was a decent, family man and citizen. This misses the point. In a perfect world, Senator McCain would have said that Senator Obama's ancestry was irrelevant, and that his character and competence were all that mattered. We do not live in a perfect world. This does not negate the fact that Senator McCain dismissed the supporter's hysteria that Senator Obama was evil, traitorous and un-American.

Amid the rancor, hatred and irrationality that have marred this Presidential Election and scarred the American soul, such a decent act seems impossible. Recall that Senator McCain was losing a long and difficult race for the greatest office in the land. His campaign had tried almost everything to chip away at Senator Obama's lead to no avail. Senator McCain could have stoked the supporter's fears and fanned the embers of hatred and suspicion in the crowd to his likely advantage. But he didn't. Maybe he was practicing the genteel politics of a by-gone era. Maybe he failed to recognize the opportunity for his campaign. Or maybe he just remembered that he was a United States Senator. Maybe he remembered the oath he took and the mantle he carried. Maybe he remembered that a victory won without honor is no victory at all.

We the people need to demand a higher level of political discourse from our candidates for office and elected officials. This starts with demanding a higher level of political discourse from ourselves. If someone disagrees with you, talk to them and find out why. You will probably discover that more things bind you as Americans than divide you as Democrats or Republicans. If we talk about our differences, we might be able to find common ground. If we remain silent, we will assuredly remain apart.

On the verge of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln promised that the chorus of Union would swell again once touched by the better angels of our nature. Today, our Nation is angry and scared and divided, but it is still our Nation. More will always bind us as Americans than divide us. When politicians try to divide us, we the people need to demand a higher standard from them. We the people alone can to raise the bar.