As Campaign Heats up, Kerry, McCain, Clinton Keep Their Cool

In the midst of a nasty presidential campaign, several unsuccessful presidential candidates are proving they can remain on message.

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U.S. Secretary of State Nominee Hillary Clinton, testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Secretary of State Nominee Hillary Clinton testifies during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.

In this era of unprecedented nastiness in campaigns, let us all celebrate the unsuccessful presidential candidate caucus.

First, we have Sen. John Kerry, who disappointed (and infuriated) Democrats in 2004 for his inability to take out a not-so-popular president. He wavered on gay marriage, and somehow managed to let the GOP make his stellar war record a liability.

Kerry has been on fire of late, delivering a terrific speech at the convention and being a smart and sensible foreign policy voice on Capitol Hill. At the convention, Kerry showed a confidence and humor not so evident during the 2004 campaign, and in the past week, he has said everything right about the crisis in the Muslim world—including his comments about what he called Mitt Romney's "reckless" remarks while the early part of the situation was still unfolding and foreign service officers were still very much in danger.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

And Sen. John McCain, while coming to some different conclusions than Kerry, has also been a statesmanlike voice. McCain showed great character and eloquence in defending the reputation of State Department staffer Huma Abedin earlier this summer against outrageous allegations made by some in McCain's party. And this past week, McCain delivered a lovely and touching tribute on the Senate floor to slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. McCain has his criticisms of President Barack Obama's foreign policy, but he made them after the early part of the crisis was over, and he did it in a way that didn't aggravate the situation overseas by actively undermining the commander in chief.

Hillary Clinton, too, has been at her absolute best—looking determinedly into the camera as she explained—with absolute necessity—what is obvious to us but not always so to the rest of the world: The U.S. government had nothing to do with the offensive video that has upset Muslims so much; that the United States cherishes free speech and won't give that up; that America also recognizes the right of people to practice whatever religion they want; and that violence is an unacceptable response to the Internet release of even the most offensive material. She looked not just resolute and in control. She looked presidential.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

We've seen this with ex-presidents and former public officials as well. Bill Clinton is better than he's ever been, and worked with President George H.W. Bush on tsunami relief. The most recent President George Bush has been admirably quiet as the campaign and various economic and foreign problems present themselves, allowing the sitting president to do his job. Jimmy Carter, of course, has been a much better ex-president than president. And former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was forever attached, fairly or not, to an unpopular war in Iraq, has been a star in academia since she left office. She delivered, hands-down, the best speech of the Republican convention, fueling hopeful speculation, again, that she might run for the White House. (Why do people still think that when a woman says no, she means yes? Rice is obviously very happy and successful in her current life.)

Perhaps the problem isn't the people at all. It's what we do to them, both when they are campaigning and when they are in office. Campaigns are getting more and more hostile, which is bad enough, but we tend not to let people actually govern or legislate once they do win. We keep them in a constant campaign. Let's hope this year's election will be the nadir. It certainly can't get much lower.

  • Read Carrie Lukas: No, America Is Not Better Off Under Obama
  • Mary Kate Cary: Romney's Right to Criticize Obama on Muslim Protests
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