The anniversary of the attacks of September 11 remains a solemn day of remembrance. In the days and weeks that followed the tragedy seven years ago, Americans stood together in a shared sense of unity. Sadly, that feeling of unity has since faded.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) agreed to a one-day moratorium on negative campaigning to honor the day. And they appeared together at Ground Zero Thursday without fanfare or politics to demonstrate a higher purpose, trying to recapture our lost sense of resolve and unity.
In a statement released to commemorate the event, McCain said:
"No American living then should ever forget the heroism that occurred in the skies above this field on September 11, 2001. It is believed that the terrorists on United Flight 93 may have intended to crash the airplane into the United States Capitol ... I have witnessed great courage and sacrifice for America's sake, but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat, and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives."
Obama similarly spoke of the spirit of the American people:
"On 9/11, Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims, to donate blood, to give to charity, and to say a prayer for our country. Let us renew that spirit of service and that sense of common purpose. Let us remember that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 are still at large, and must be brought to justice. Let us resolve to defeat terrorist networks, defend the American homeland, stand up for the enduring American values that we cherish, and seek a new birth of freedom at home and around the world."
Yes, the American people want a common purpose. They hope for what the authors of the Declaration of Independence expressed more than two centuries ago: "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
But can the good intentions expressed today really continue to Sept. 12 and beyond? A one-day moratorium on negative campaign ads? Why not 53 days?
America faces an uncertain future. At home, the economy has struggled for more than a year with declining home prices and rising gas prices at the pump. Jobs and prosperity have been lost. Abroad, two conflicts continue to see American lives lost: Afghanistan and Iraq. Ironically, Sept. 11, 2008, marked the 112th death of an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2008 -- marking the largest annual rate of loss since the conflict began in 2002. And where is Osama bin Laden?
The tough questions have gone unanswered on the campaign trail. For two days now, the campaign and the media have focused on Obama's use of the phrase: "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig." Of course, Obama also used another common refrain: "You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still gonna stink." Is the use of these rhetorical phrases really worth the thousands of articles that have been written? I think not.
Does the most important decision by American voters in four years have to depend on which candidate can whine the loudest about some inanity? Any candidate in this election willing to discuss silly stuff deserves one thing -- egg on their face -- to quote another old phrase.
The candidates have a chance to change that tonight. Both McCain and Obama plan to appear at the ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum in New York, where I hope the focus will be issues, not name-calling.
Why? Because the American people deserve better and they deserve to hear how the candidates plan to offer them the pursuit of happiness and prosperity.