Barack Obama’s apparent victory over Hillary Clinton will pit, in the November American presidential election, a clear opponent of the war in Iraq against one of its resolute supporters. However, from the perspective of this website, larger questions should focus on whether this election might foster a more peaceful society in America.
In what ways would the beliefs, attitudes, and practices of either Senator McCain or Senator Obama resonate with the peaceful societies? How does each man handle conflict situations? Is either quick to get angry? In essence, is either candidate a very peaceful person, who might set a standard for a more harmonious world? While these News and Reviews have always concentrated on, and will continue to focus on, topics involving the world’s peaceful societies, on occasion this research can also provide perspectives on issues such as the current U.S. presidential campaign.
John McCain and Barack Obama have both said a lot about the war in Iraq. McCain believes that the military strength of America is a key to world peace. In a speech on March 26, 2008, he discussed his idealism and his belief that “it is possible in our time to make the world we live in [a] better, more peaceful place.” His vision of peace is based on American values and approaches, but he argues that America’s international relations must be built on trust and mutual respect. The literature on peaceful societies certainly suggests that most of them believe respect minimizes conflicts, which can lead to violence. Senator McCain’s belief in respect would resonate with many of those societies.
Senator Obama says many similar things, though of course he emphasizes his opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the need for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops. Obama certainly utters platitudes similar to McCain’s. In a speech at Hartford on June 23, 2007, his words were just as idealistic as his opponent’s: “We all have the capacity to do justice and show mercy; to treat others with dignity and respect; and to rise above what divides us and come together to meet those challenges we can’t meet alone.”
Unlike McCain, who appears to be carefully controlled during the campaign, Obama is sometimes quite candid and spontaneous. At a speech in New Hampshire on May 19, 2007, he explained how he personally learned to respect others. After a hard night of partying, when he and his friends had spilled a lot of beer and made an atrocious mess, the cleaning lady got upset. A girlfriend heard about it and told him, “‘that woman could’ve been my grandmother, Barack. She spent her days cleaning up after somebody else’s mess.’” The incident drove home a lesson, he told the audience: “The world doesn’t just revolve around you.”
On April 19, 2008, at a campaign question and answer session in Indiana, a lady asked him how, as president, he would heal the divisiveness in America. He first spoke about the need for bipartisan leadership groups, for forging compromises with all political leaders, and for mutual respect. Then he mentioned that working in a bipartisan fashion sometimes forces him to take hits, as he has in this campaign. He added, “I don’t always hit back. Then folks, you know, [say] what’s the matter with him? How come, you know, maybe he’s not mean enough, maybe he’s not tough enough?”
He added, “One of the things I learned in the schoolyard was the folks who were talking tough all the time, they’re not always that tough. If you’re really tough, you’re not always looking to try to start a fight. If you’re really tough, sometimes you just walk away. If you’re really tough, sometimes you just save it for when you really need it.”
Having a potential president of the United States admit that it is not always right to strike back would certainly resonate with the peaceful societies. Obama not only admits that he believes in avoiding violence, sometimes he actually walks away from it.
In contrast, the salient issue regarding Senator McCain’s potential peacefulness is his famous temper. The Washington Post, whose liberal bias is well known, did publish a thorough investigation of his reputation for angry outbursts on April 20, 2008. The story cited many individuals, and it included quotes from McCain’s own books, where he admitted to his temper problems.
“I have a temper,” he wrote in 2002, “which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public’s.” His supporters point out that he has kept his temper under control throughout his current presidential campaign, which may be true. But the heated denials to the Post story by the McCain staff—the accounts were “99 percent fiction” or “totally untrue” or “grossly exaggerated” or “a smear job”—were not convincing.
The stories about a senator standing inches away from a colleague’s nose screaming at him are troubling. The contrast with the peaceful societies is stark, since those peoples try very hard to maintain their interpersonal harmony and rarely get angry. Heated expressions of anger can sometimes lead directly to violence.
Thus the major difference between the two candidates in terms of their potential peacefulness appears to be that Senator McCain looks on political interactions as a series of battles, whatever his rhetoric about respect may indicate. Senator Obama appears to avoid fights if he can, though he clearly wants to win the election and become president.
It would be foolish to expect Obama, should he win, to quickly form a peaceful society in America. Whether he is truly a peaceful person, or even shades in that direction, is certainly debatable. But he may have leanings toward peacefulness, while McCain appears to lean away from harmonious social interrelationships. American voters need to decide how important a peaceful society would be to them and whether either candidate will be able to lead the nation in that direction.