Insincere Civility

A little bit to my surprise, I felt depressed yesterday when I listened to Mitt Romney endorsing John McCain. Surprise, because in one way this ...
by | February 15, 2008

A little bit to my surprise, I felt depressed yesterday when I listened to Mitt Romney endorsing John McCain. Surprise, because in one way this is the essence of political civility: you say nasty things about the other guy, but then shake hands and join forces when it's over. But civility seemed misplaced here.

If you believe the things Romney was saying just a short time ago, he considers McCain a fraudulent conservative standard-bearer and possibly unqualified to be president. Should he be allowed to gloss over those things so lightly and insist that all is now peace and harmony, a matter of days later?

Yes, it's the polite thing to do. But if Romney meant the things he said about McCain, one might hope that he would stick to his guns at least a little longer. If he didn't mean them, then his entire campaign was a deception, and we have an even worse problem in the nominating process.

The problem isn't limited to Republicans; it pervades the Clinton-Obama competition as well, although perhaps not quite as shamelessly. What's the answer to the puzzle?

I don't think it's to have vanquished presidential warriors sulk in their tents until after the convention.  It's to have campaigns in which candidates refrain from personal attacks that make them look silly when they have to pretend it was all nothing.

I can't help thinking back to Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. They didn't like each other; they were from different parties (unlike McCain and Romney), and yet nothing they said in the campaign made them look like insincere character assassins when the election was over.

So I suppose what depressed me this time was the recognition that we move further from civil and respectful campaign debate every four years, we are expected to pretend that character assassination never took place (usually without giving us any time to get over it), that the candidates are treating us as pliable dupes, and that we are in many ways living up to their estimate.

Alan Ehrenhalt
Alan Ehrenhalt  |  Contributing Editor
aehrenhalt@governing.com  | 

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