My colleague Alexander Heffner touched on a few of the reasons why former governor Jon Huntsman (R-Utah) could beat President Obama at his own game, the chief reason being “both Obama and Huntsman are elegant orators, and both have embraced unifying governing styles.” But after watching Huntsman’s speech announcing his run for the Republican nomination for president, I would add that they share a strongly held desire to raise the tone and tenor of national debate.
In his 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic convention in Boston, Barack Obama raised the roof off then-FleetCenter by espousing a vision of America that many held in their hearts but felt they no longer saw. He reignited a hope that the United States could change the rhetoric (and policies) of the previous eight years that divided Americans.
It is that fundamental belief — it is that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one.
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.
Huntsman struck a similar tone this morning in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty by boldly proclaiming, “We will conduct this campaign on the high road.”
For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans.
Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.
You know what I mean when I say that.
We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.
Of course we’ll have our disagreements. That’s what campaigns are all about.
But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates.
And I respect the President of the United States.
He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.
But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President, not who’s the better American.
I highlighted this in my last blog post. But to hear it spoken was to experience that same sense of “Ahhh, finally!” that I felt in Boston in 2004. Huntsman’s simple words take on added power than they ought to because over the past two years the rage and rhetoric coming from the far-right wing of the Republican Party has questioned everything about Obama, from his citizenship to his patriotism, in a mindless bid to delegitimize him. The absence of adults in the GOP willing to tell the extremist elements in their party to knock it off only made matters worse.
As Huntsman said, it is possible to disagree with the president without casting doubt on his love of country or his character. What we’ll soon find out is whether that much-needed message will lead to much-needed votes for Huntsman going forward.