Last Monday at a trade show for people who are part of the Florida tourist industry, I asked the 750 assembled for lunch how many were happy with the tone of modern politics? Not a hand was raised.
Since my Democratic friend Bob Beckel and I wrote our book "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America," among the public, I have found a growing discontent about a campaign that had promised to be different. Both John McCain and Barack Obama said they wanted to put to rest the divisive and incendiary politics of the past, but in their present campaigns both have now succumbed to politics as usual.
How did this happen when the public consistently says it is sick of it and hates the tearing down of the other candidate rather than the building up of the country?
In this campaign, part of the answer has to do with the massive media buildup of Obama, which has led the McCain campaign to do commercials mocking his "deity." It has been the only way McCain thought he could bring Obama down to earth. But a part of the reason also has to do with the veteran handlers, special-interest groups, fund-raisers and other unworthies who have made a lot of money and gained considerable power over the years with their slash-and-burn tactics. Candidates fear losing more than anything else and when confronted with the possibility of political death, they will cling to any lifeline thrown in their direction. If destroying one's opponent has worked before, maybe it will work again - in spite of the public's distaste.
The Obama campaign at first indicated it might agree to the meetings, but then someone decided such gatherings might put Obama at a disadvantage, which is hard to imagine given Obama's superior verbal firepower and quick mind. Maybe a consultant, fearful of losing control of the candidate, nixed it. We'll have to wait for the history of this campaign to be written to find out.
Beckel has a suggestion he thinks might yet redeem the time. He thinks that 10 days to two weeks before the campaign ends, one of the candidates should announce he is tired of the negativity and until Election Day will refuse to utter a negative word about his opponent, focusing instead on the positive aspects of his own campaign. Beckel thinks this would sway the large independent vote in the direction of whichever candidate does it and means it, thereby handing him the election.
Beckel also believes - and I agree - that Obama and McCain should tell the Commission on Presidential Debates that they are rejecting the tired format of journalists questioning them and they should come up with their own format, modeled after Lincoln-Douglas. The interest level would be sky-high and be reflected in the TV ratings.
Obama and McCain could change politics for a generation if they did this, but if they continue along their current path of mutual destruction, there will be no common ground, only scorched earth that will enhance the bitterness and cynicism most people already have toward politics and politicians.