On June 4, with Barack Obama having clinched the Democratic nomination, John McCain wrote his presumptive rival a letter inviting him to participate in a series of town-hall debates. McCain's additional suggestion that the two candidates travel together while employing the town-hall style will draw even more public interest to this already uniquely compelling presidential race, but it will also help lend transparency to the candidates' platforms.
McCain proposed this format for a number of different reasons. In recent years, the three traditional televised debates have become circus-like productions marked by bland process questions from reporters and bickering spin rooms that control the message of the candidates more than the debates themselves. McCain seems eager to deviate from this path. He believes that Americans are tired of the spectacle that dominates current campaigns, a debacle that he believes is made up of "gimmicks, phony sound bites, and photo ops." For McCain, a town-hall meeting reflects a more revealing image of the candidates. By allowing audience members to ask their own questions, without the input of either candidate, the dialogue of a town-hall format could provide a more substantive level of discourse. A heavily orchestrated and highly fabricated mess could instead be a rewarding, concrete interaction with the audience. The candidates would be able to respond directly to the concerns of the American people.
As another part of the agreement, McCain suggested that he and Obama travel together on the same plane to all 10 of the town-hall debates. He believes that arriving together is a symbolically important gesture of respect and courtesy. This approach may help overcome the characteristic negativity of political campaigns that has already surfaced in the Democratic primary. For this reason, Obama should accept McCain's proposal. Traveling together would ease the burden on McCain's finances, and this may give the presumptive Democratic nominee pause, but the bigger picture must not be missed.
Presidential campaigns have been characterized by attacks and mudslinging for far too long, disenchanting potential voters and lowering the stature of the office. Obama should accept McCain's challenge with the hope that this kind of respectful cooperation has the potential to cleanse the palate of the American electorate, a purpose that Obama has frequently called his own. Even though his acceptance doesn't mean that this negativity will become a thing of the past, his cooperation would provide an optimistic transition from the primary to the general election and cast the remainder of the process in a different light. The public will enjoy the breath of fresh air represented by the more personable and productive town-hall style debates. Any step taken away from negative campaigning, personal attacks, and the tired refrain from past elections is a positive one and should be taken.