New Hampshire to Reveal Political Truths

Scott Swenson

A cathartic moment in American politics is at hand, if candidates choose to believe the best about themselves and America, and move forward with a healthy debate about our future. There is no need for this debate to end unless base instincts pull us down.

This election is no longer simply about change, it has the potential to be a "cathartic election." The only sure bet on that phrase is you won't hear it repeated a dozen times in a sentence by any of the candidates.

But given the dramatic and historic forces at play in New Hampshire today, the candidate's real personalities finally breaking through the political veneer, this election is already proving to be transformational in ways beyond anyone's imagining.

The question is can the leading candidates, each in their own way exceptional leaders, resist their base instincts to go in for the kill and lift the nation to a longer, healthier, cathartic discussion about the future of our democracy. If they can't, then they should drop out.

Hillary Clinton's and Bill Richardson's vast experience was on display in passionate ways in Saturday night's debate. The two have done more to create this political moment for change than many of the other candidates combined. They also come from a generation of politics that was brutally divisive, and thus learned to play hardball with an opposition that has been ruthless and relentless. They are not facing that opposition in the primary.

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Barack Obama's and John Edwards' experience teaches that the problems we face transcend the merely political, that the purpose of our politics is not just about beating others, engaging in a never ending war room mentality. They each bring often unheard voices to the table creating a movement that is based more on hope than fear, channeling anger toward healing, recognizing the importance of moving entrenched interests beyond the political realm if any progress is to be made.

The best thing that can happen in the Democratic Party is for these four leaders to recognize the value in pushing each other to do better, recognizing that the American people are responding to their collective message. A true governing majority, something the nation has not seen in a long time, is within reach. Progressive ideas are capturing the imagination and hopes of Independents and Republicans as well as Democrats. This is what governing from the center means, not compromising on principles, but articulating ideas that bring people together.

None of these candidates wants to stand in the way of a historic moment each has helped create. And none are ready to abandon the notion that it might be their historic moment.

But historical figures are chosen by historical forces, not the mirror. Late tonight and tomorrow morning, as some campaigns determine their strategies moving forward, let them look at the past eight years and channel all their intelligence, experience, and passion for change toward making the best decision for America and our democracy, not their own personal interests, and continue this debate in healthy, productive and challenging ways that leaves the ultimate nominee stronger, not weaker.

The best thing for America is for all four Democrats to stay in this race and recognize their unique role in this historical moment, and truly engage each other and the American people in a genuine discussion of ideas, not one that simply masks a scorched earth politics carefully orchestrated under the radar.

The GOP primary must do some winnowing to achieve the kind of high-minded road show the Democrats can choose to pursue. Even Republican voters recognize the weakness of their field, and the extremely negative campaign of Mitt Romney will continue regardless of outcomes, because of his money. Likable Mike Huckabee now represents the most divisive part of the electorate, despite his folksy style, as social conservatives refuse to see that their time has come and gone, pursuing an agenda of, by and for a narrow sect more comfortable in theological nuances than recognizing the complexity, diversity and beauty in a pluralistic democracy.

John McCain stands alone in the GOP field, sharing the gravitas of the Democrats to engage the nation in a healthy, healing debate of ideas.

Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani add interesting and refreshingly unique perspectives to the GOP debate, reminding Republicans of a time when they too celebrated more than one idea, were not held captive by divisive social issues.

Republicans too will benefit from a genuine debate of ideas within their party, and for the first time in many years, have the potential to carry that debate to their convention so Americans can see what the GOP is really about. It is a defining moment for many political forces and the longer it is on display, the better it is for America.

On the eve of New Hampshire, but far away in Oklahoma, a bi-partisan group convened to urge all the candidates to lay out plans for governing from the center, working across party lines. Names like Danforth, Bloomberg, Boren, Hagel, Whitman, Nunn, Cohen — people never comfortable in the extremes of either party — seemed to lay a marker as well, suggesting that to miss this historic opportunity to move out of partisan gridlock would not be wise.

Our politics is at a pivotal and defining moment. Tomorrow morning, the decisions of a few will determine how this historic election moves forward. Voters will reward those who make it an election about ideas and leadership, not bunker mentalities.

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