Barack Obama, John McCain need to talk to each other – and to us

Mike Lupica – NY Daily News

Maybe it is too late for this, maybe the last three weeks of the presidential campaign are going to be about as high-minded as a rock fight. Or an Ultimate Fight. But at Hofstra University on Wednesday night, you want Barack Obama and John McCain to present themselves as they really are, not just as products of their handlers and where they are in the polls.

You want them to actually talk to each other and talk to us at the same time, before it is too late. Because for now, this is what the process has become:

Obama, the candidate leading in the polls, having to defend himself against the notion that he isn’t just an opponent to McCain, but an enemy, and about half-a-traitor. And that isn’t a shame for one side or the other, it is a shame for all of us.

At the same time that McCain runs a television commercial saying Obama is “too risky for America,” at the same time Sarah Palin goes around America accusing Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and sounds like some windup doll for right-wing radio, here was John McCain on Friday – in a moment of both decency and humanity – saying this at a town hall meeting in Minnesota:

“[Obama] is a person you don’t have to be afraid [of] as President of the United States.”

In that moment, McCain was so much better than what his campaign has become the past few weeks, so much better than his own running mate, who more and more acts drunk with being famous or maybe just from the roar of the Obama haters in the crowd.

This is still a contest for the most important elective office on Earth, at one of the most perilous moments in history, and sometimes you think the whole thing is being geared to a huge demographic comprised only of stupid people. When it is like this, Obama and McCain aren’t the losers. We are. However this comes out.

I came down Sunday morning and there on the kitchen counter was the envelope, stamped and ready to go, from my college freshman. The outside read “Official Absentee Balloting Material – First Class Mail.” It was about as first-class as you get, the first vote of his life. His brother, a college junior, also a first-time voter, had already mailed in his ballot to the town clerk where we live.

The two of them went through the process of getting absentee ballots on their own, no help from their mother or from me. They were thrilled from the start to watch the long primary season play out, thrilled they would finally have something to say about the fragile and dangerous world we are handing over to them. Only now they are appalled by what they hear and see in the late innings.

Obama is no saint here. He is a politician, and his ambition is no more sacred than McCain’s. But say this about him: His narrative hasn’t changed in two years. He has run the same campaign against McCain that he ran against Hillary Clinton and all the rest of them. If he has sometimes fought back against the other side with his own nasty rhetoric, it is probably because he saw what happened to John Kerry four years ago, when he was slow to fight back against the scamming of a cynical political lowlife like Karl Rove, and saw how the country lost because of that.

But if Obama wants to tell McCain to say the things his ads say to his face, let him say that to McCain’s face on Wednesday night at Hofstra, not to Charlie Gibson. If Obama really thinks McCain is too old and too erratic to be President, let him say that at Hofstra, too.

If McCain wants to come after Obama with William Ayers, an old member of the Weather Underground, the Swift Boat All-Star of this campaign, then let him question Obama directly about Ayers, not go through Bob Schieffer, the moderator, or anybody else. If McCain thinks some old relationship with Ayers makes Obama “too risky for America,” then let him explain that with something other than the innuendo and invective of his campaign’s current ads.

McCain has a right to be angry these days, as he sees his last shot at the presidency begin to slip away from him. He not only was ruined by Bush/Rove gutter politics eight years ago, now he must feel as if he is being ruined all over again by Bush’s presidency, the worst and weakest in 100 years. But McCain was better than Bush eight years ago. He should be better now, no matter what the hacks working for him tell him he has to do to win.

The process was supposed to be better than this, the ending to these two years of presidential politics was supposed to be better because the stakes are as high as they have ever been. Obama is not an enemy of the country, he is not the enemy of the Republican Party, no matter what the yahoos say.

John McCain encountered real enemies of this country a long time ago in Vietnam. He should know the difference better than anyone.

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