Nation & World

McCain, Obama call a truce for 9/11 anniversary

WASHINGTON — In a departure from the increasingly nasty environment of the presidential campaign, Barack Obama and John McCain will make a joint appearance on Thursday in New York to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It's the kind of civility that the public says it wants in politics but rarely gets.

"It says that despite all the differences, they agree broadly on issues of patriotism and the need to oppose the forces that caused 9/11," said John Geer, the editor of The Journal of Politics.

The candidates plan to visit the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the terrorist attack seven years ago. They also have agreed to suspend television ads on Thursday.

The event will mark the first time since each was nominated that they have appeared together.

"On Thursday," McCain and Obama said in a joint statement, "we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with families and friends who lost loved ones."

The event's tone will present a contrast to the campaign atmosphere of the past few weeks. While presidential campaigns historically are full of specious charges from both sides, this year's rhetoric is unusually harsh.

Wednesday, for instance, McCain's campaign launched two new ads. One charged that Obama was "ready to smear," while the other had a warning about the Democratic nominee's strategy for dealing with Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

"As Obama drops in the polls," the 30-second TV spot says, "he'll try to destroy her."

Obama fired back.

"I don't care what they say about me," he said at a campaign stop in Norfolk, Va. "But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and Swift-Boat politics. Enough is enough."

Four years ago, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group with ties to Republican donors, misrepresented Democratic nominee John Kerry's Vietnam War record.

The latest McCain-Obama clash was triggered by an offhand Obama remark at a Lebanon, Va., rally on Tuesday. When describing McCain's economic plans as extensions of President Bush's approach, Obama said "you can put lipstick on a pig . . . it's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."

Though the Democrat had made no reference to Palin, McCain's camp charged that Obama had insulted the Alaska governor. Palin said in her Republican convention speech last week that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is "lipstick." Obama's used the "lipstick on a pig" line for months.

Strategists and analysts are torn over whether a candidate is better served by being statesmanlike or sloshing in the mud.

Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said Dwight D. Eisenhower, running for president in 1952 as the general who won World War II in Europe, ran an ad where a voter says, "General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good."

Eisenhower replied: "Can that be true when America is billions in debt, and prices have doubled and taxes break our backs, and we are still fighting in Korea? It's tragic, and it's time for a change."

Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson fought back with a TV ad featuring a woman singing, "I'd rather have a man with a hole in his shoe than a hole in everything he says." A photo of Stevenson with a hole in his shoe sole won photographer William Gallagher a 1953 Pulitzer Prize.

If that seemed like tough campaign rhetoric at the time, at least it was related to national issues, rather than lipstick and pigs.

The dilemma for candidates has long been that "people say they don't want candidates to attack each other, but it's been shown that attack ads work," said Penni Pier, a political communication expert at Wartburg College, in Waverly, Iowa. But not always, she added.

"If you are undecided, you need the adversarial comments, but the candidate also risks a backlash. You can go too far," Pier said. "Candidates also need the cooperative rhetoric."


To see the photo of the hole in Adlai Stevenson's shoe

To see the 1952 campaign ads

To read the joint McCain-Obama statement


Check out McClatchy's expanded politics coverage

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