Our firm had the privilege of working in support of the recent Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York. The event brought together President Obama and Governor Romney for an evening of lighthearted remarks and self-deprecation. Both distinguished guests lived up to expectations. The President said he was well rested for the evening after “…the nice, long nap I had in the first debate.” Mitt Romney, resplendent in white tie and tails, said he was happy to be able to relax in the kind of attire he and Ann wear around the house.
From the media room and the camera positions we established for the press, it was clear the journalists were hanging on every quip, capturing every barb and gauging the reaction of each candidate to his opponent’s gentle jabs. Perhaps the tenor of this campaign season led some to expect that the traditional spirit of the event might give way to more pointed remarks and sharp words about position or policy. If so, they were disappointed. As close as either came was when the President stated “Of course, the economy is on everybody’s minds. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office. I don’t have a joke here. I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it’s been since I took office.” (Laughter and applause.)
The larger point of the evening, and both made mention of it, was that this occasion offered the opportunity for collegiality. What a shame that in such a long and often acrimonious campaign, only a single night is left open for decorum and civility. Over nearly the last two full years, our airwaves have been filled with talking heads shouting over one another to make their points in support of their candidate. Debates have aired during the primaries and the general campaign where condescension and hot contradiction were the order of the day. I found myself more than once during all this remembering the chant from the 60’s of my youth, “The whole world’s watching.”
And surely that has been the case during this campaign. That world audience has included kids who might be led to think that sarcasm and snickering is normal and appropriate conversation. It has included an online population cramming as much vitriol as possible into 140 characters, mimicking the discourse on political talk shows. It has included Americans whose backgrounds and interests are diverse, but whose love of country is undiscussed and ill-considered in the passionate rhetoric of the campaign.
Can it be true that we are left with only a brief evening when the hostilities are set aside and each candidate can salute the other for their love of family and country, as each did? Is there only this one opportunity to pause for a moment and concentrate on what brings us together rather than what separates us?
It took New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to bring that dimension into focus. Speaking of everyone in attendance and watching from home, he talked about us all as ”… Grateful to be people of faith and loyal Americans; Loving a country which considers religious liberty our first and most cherished freedom, convinced that faith is not just limited to an hour of Sabbath worship, but affects everything we do and dream”
I encourage you to read his full remarks here.
Perhaps we all should take a moment, as this campaign season draws mercifully to a close, to consider the manner and content of our communication, its impact on our audience not only in terms of the message, but also the tone, and remember that we are all in this together. We have more in common than we might like to admit, but it is those commonalities that make us one people capable of speaking to one another with dignity and respect. We should do so more often than one night every four years.