“Tomorrow we’ll be back at it, but tonight Senator job well done.”
— McCain congratulating Obama on being first black nominee
They have fundamentally different views of what makes for good public policy so theirs was a hard fought campaign – and as the old saying goes “politics ain’t beanbag.” Nonetheless, there are moments where both men have offered a guiding light for what it looks like to humanize the political foes we clash with, a fundamentally American innovation that academics refer to as “mutual toleration” – the idea that competing political parties accept each other as legitimate rivals.
In their book, “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt describe the high stakes: “norms of toleration and restraint served as the soft guardrails of American democracy for the 20th century, helping it avoid the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies elsewhere in the world, including Europe in the 1930’s and South American in the 1960’s.”
Senator McCain and President Obama modeled another way forward in their own heated campaign. In response to a woman who accused then-candidate Obama of being an “Arab,” Senator McCain took back the microphone from her and said, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man. A citizen I happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Check out that moment in this Business Insider telling of their story.
In another moment during the same town hall, Senator McCain told another voter who accused Obama of “consorting with domestic terrorists, McCain’s response was met by boos:
“He is a decent person and someone you don’t have to be scared about being president of the United States.” — McCain on Obama in the midst of a heated, difficult presidential campaign
You can watch that moment here:
President Obama later reflected on how McCain had defended him at the Senator’s funeral: