Skip to content




For a political junkie, there’s no better fix than a presidential primary season. This one happens to be the first in over 50 years when neither party has a sitting president or vice president as the presumptive nominee. It’s glorious to watch.

People ridicule the impact small states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have, but they serve a valuable purpose. We actually get to know the candidates better. Slick media cannot offset personal interactions that bubble up through this long and grueling process. Candidates working long days get tired. If they get tired they can let their guard down and actually show us more about themselves than they want.

This year we seem to be seeing voter fatigue as well. We seem to be tired of partisan rancor and divisiveness. I am not so naïve as to suggest the current political climate is the nastiest ever. Indeed, if you read history, you will likely find yourself appalled at some of the tactics. Exalted historical figure Thomas Jefferson turned character assassination into an art form, helping to destroy Aaron Burr and so angering John Adams that they didn’t communicate with one another for several decades.

So let’s just call it a pendulum swing back to civility. Republican candidate Mike Huckabee and Democratic candidate Barack Obama seem to be riding a popularity surge based largely on their affability. They do not eviscerate their opposition. Political pundits throw around the words “genuine” and “authentic” to describe them. They may lack political experience in general and foreign relations experience in specific, but the nation seems to be giving them a hall pass on this at the moment. They’re likable.

And what is to explain Mrs. Clinton’s recent troubles? Is it simple “front-runner-itis” or is there more at play here? Did lukewarm supporters look back on the Clinton era with rose-colored glasses? Did they simply remember it as being better than the Bush II years without any specifics? Did recent personal attacks by her minions and prevarications from her husband remind them of the downside to those years?

Every presidential cycle has an “out of nowhere” candidate who surges to the fore, only to fade due to lack of a credible national organization. Senator McCain has yet to recapture the magic he had back in 2000, and Howard Dean will likely be relegated to footnote status in presidential primary political history. However, each in their own way nudged the political discourse.

Will Messrs. Huckabee and Obama be able to pull our political leaders out of the rhetorical gutter? Will there be a point at which we, as a nation, collectively recoil at the rhetoric of our presidential candidates and simply ask them, “Have you no shame?” At long last it seems there’s a genuine Christian carrying that mantle rather than vicious hypocrites hiding behind the Bible as they demonize and denigrate those with whom they disagree. People like Fred Phelps cause us to forget people like Mike Huckabee actually exist in anything other than a Frank Capra movie.

Likewise, Barack Obama strikes a resonant chord when he admonishes the baby boomer generation. To paraphrase, he has said baby boomers have carried on an intergenerational argument on the national scene for the past 40 years and that the nation is tired of it. I may not agree with a single policy proposal the man has to offer, but I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment. When it comes to the political profession, boomers should simply stop shouting at one another and take the early retirement package.

Blame for the coarsening of our political discourse gets spread around liberally by those seeking to rationalize their own behavior. Zealots on either side argue the other side conducts themselves far worse, saying they have to fight back. Elitists argue voters do not research detailed explanations and therefore the candidates are only giving us what we want when they oversimplify and excoriate to make the point clear.

And what of us? The Internet has opened up information avenues to “the common man,” it is argued. Blogs enable all voices to be heard, which begs the question of how harmonious a choir would sound if anyone could walk in, grab the hymnal and start bellowing. We seem to have forgotten our manners now that we can pound away at our keyboards and make any crass utterance we feel like without having to confront the person we attack. In cyberspace, Republicans and Democrats get vilified as Nazis/facists and communists, respectively, in sophomoric rantings that won’t let a fact get in the way of a good insult.

Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Huckabee rank as my top choice for president, but I respect them and admire them for the tenor and tone they are bringing to the political process this year. I have had staunch partisans dismiss this sentiment as naïve, putting style ahead of substance. I would argue it restores civility so we can get to the substance. Tip O’Neill described politics as the art of the possible, which suggests, indirectly, the need to work with people representing different interests and to build working coalitions. If Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch can get along, then why can’t the rest of these people?

The only political entity with more woeful national approval ratings than the president happens to be Congress itself. Little if anything gets accomplished beyond partisan glee when an opposition member gets tossed into the political wood chipper that turns a person into the pulp on which to print the next scandal of the week.

It’s time for partisans to forget who started it and to be the first to end it. It’s time for partisans to decry the crass Internet musings of those who hold their views as being out of line. They won’t do it until such time as voters indicate they are tired of it. The recent rise of the likes of Messrs. Obama and Huckabee seem to indicate that they are.

It is long overdue.

Mr. Woollacott is president and founder of Renaissance Group International Inc., a market research and consulting firm focusing on the information technology market. Contact him directly at

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.