- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2008

Civility has surfaced in America as one administration ends and another begins.

The shoving match between President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain came to an abrupt end as both delivered gracious election night speeches. President Bush also weighed in Wednesday with words that were polite, yet full of gravitas.

The significance was not lost on Americans.

“I was impressed. These exchanges were appropriate to both the occasion and the office — they reflected a measure of respect and solemnity. No balloons, no confetti. Instead, we saw consideration between those leaders which extended to voters. I think it was a balm for the nation,” said Anna Post of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute.

Ms. Post is the great-great-granddaughter of the venerable etiquette maven — and is convinced that manners matter, especially on a presidential level.

“Civility makes for good business. Etiquette at its core is civility in action. It gives us the tools to reach across political divides. And leaders can set the example by using those skills,” she added.

“I liked the gracious tone of election night. This closure of a hard-fought campaign was more civil and heartfelt than in other elections,” said P.M. Forni, author of “The Civility Solution” and co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University, which seeks to plumb the significance of manners in contemporary society.

“The media paid attention to the tone. And I think to the extent that they follow the news, so did many Americans. It is vitally important that those in elected authority set a good example for the public through civility,” Mr. Forni said.

He praised Mr. McCain for going beyond a conciliatory speech to express genuine admiration for his formal rival.

Some were taken with Mr. Obama, however.

“There was a certain grace and gratitude in him as he spoke. You got the impression that this is a thoughtful man, a kind man,” said L. Londell McMillan, an entertainment lawyer whose clients include filmmaker Spike Lee and co-owner of the Source magazine.

“There are nice guys, nice people out in the world who may be tough, ambitious and battle tested. But they maintain a sense of goodness and decency about them, a humility. Barack Obama did that when he spoke election night. And I think Americans got it,” he continued.

All these good manners may take time to reach the young and restless, though.

“Young people taken up with pop culture still see Obama as an adult — but an adult they can relate to. There’s still going to be a distinction between how a president acts — and how young people act,” Mr. McMillan added.

Others agree that the nation noticed the mannerly politicians.

“Those exchanges resonated in America. I think there is an army of people who are dying for just such a conversation. Civil dialogue is the true building block for the 21st century, but unfortunately, we don’t have enough opportunity to create that dialogue on a local level,” said Kent Roberts, co-founder of the National Civility Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit that promotes public civility.

“It’s time for us to create safe opportunities to discover what it is we share,” he added.

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