- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I began this column, “Purple Nation,” in June with the theme that American politics can be better than the hyper-partisan politics of personal destruction that had come to dominate our national politics, regardless of which party was in charge of the White House or the Congress, over the past 20 to 30 years.

I argued that the expression “partisan bipartisanship” does not have to be an oxymoron; that it is possible for liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to remain committed to their respective principles and still be able to debate the issues and agree on solutions supported by the broad center-left and center-right coalition where most Americans’ views are.

In a book I wrote in fall 2006, I predicted that the election of 2008 could be the turning point for the development such a “New Center” in American politics, one in which the politics of decency and civil disagreement would finally replace the politics of personal destruction and vilification so often heard on talk radio by day and on cable TV political shows at night.

As the 2008 presidential campaign heated up, I began to wonder whether those who read my book and the theme of this column were right when they called me naive and unrealistic.

For example, nothing seemed much different when I heard Republicans falsely accuse Barack Obama of being a “socialist” and “palling around with terrorists” and Democrats falsely accuse John McCain of being a warmonger and favoring the wealthy over the welfare of the many. There was certainly no change from the hate still spewing forth on many blog sites of the left and the right. It often seemed, no matter which party won, we were bound, like moths to a flame, to pursue yet another cycle of “gotcha” politics.

But then there were moments when both candidates offered a glimmer of hope, much like a ray of sunshine that breaks through on a dark and cloudy day, ever so briefly, before being smothered by the next storm.

For example, there was the day that Mr. McCain told a rabidly partisan Republican crowd that Mr. Obama was a decent man. He was greeted by ugly boos and jeers. He held his ground and repeated his statement.

And there was the time that Mr. Obama declared that any comments about Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughter and her personal situation were “out of bounds” and the many times that he praised Mr. McCain for his patriotism and sincerity in seeking a successful result in the Iraq war, even if there was serious disagreement on specific policies.

Finally came election night, when both men rose to the occasion in final speeches that made us all proud to be Americans.

Mr. McCain told his disappointed supporters, as he conceded defeat:

“Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country … . [We] have had our differences, and he has prevailed … . These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited. Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me.”

A few moments later, Mr. Obama showed the same grace and graciousness:

Mr. McCain “has fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.”

And he reiterated his theme of a new politics with which he began his campaign almost two years before:

“Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House … . As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, ‘We are not enemies, but friends … though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.’ And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices. I need your help, and I will be your president, too.”

So we end the year 2008 with a president-elect who means what he says and says what he means. Beginning in 2009, Mr. Obama can overcome and achieve the new kind of political leadership that he promised from the start and that can be his greatest legacy for generations: a politics of civility at home and a presidency that restores America as the beacon to the world of humility, respect, human rights and justice at home and abroad.

May God bless him and his family in meeting these challenges in the years ahead.

Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer and former special counsel to President Clinton, served as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006 to 2007. He is the author of “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America.”

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