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Barack Obama and the Return of Grace

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We haven't seen a lot of grace from our government over the past eight years. We haven't had a lot of it in our society in general and we certainly haven't seen much grace in the various campaigns. We're all guilty of it. I'm guilty of it too. But what we saw in the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain was nothing less than the rebirth of such grace. Unfortunately it was fully embodied by only one candidate, while at the same time we witnessed the sad and profound gracelessness in the decaying integrity of the other.

John McCain displayed himself for all to see as a deeply angry, petty man, locked in a blood-war somewhere deep in the rice paddies of his frustrated and confused mind. He personalizes every conflict to the point that he can't even look at his opponent, as if by ignoring him he might be able to deny the man his dignity. What McCain doesn't realize is that the only person who surrendered his dignity was the one who shamefully displayed contempt in a forum designed to promote civil discourse on the most important issues of the day. And those issues are far too important to all of us to be obfuscated by the kind of pettiness we hope to never see in our leaders. Those who aspire to lead us are supposed to be the best among us. They are supposed to transcend and rise above those they would hope to lead. McCain's is the kind of behavior that wouldn't even be acceptable in a high school debate, let alone one between candidates for the highest office in the land.

Ironically, the very thing the McCain campaign is now crowing about as an example of McCain's victory -- the fact that Obama granted his opponent the courtesy of pointing out the places where they agree -- is the very quality of leadership that McCain continues to falsely claim as his own. "I have a record of reaching across the aisle," is the repeated line. He claims to have made a career of putting "Country First," yet we only see him engage in behavior that has divided this country for far too long, effectively putting country second and putting McCain First. If he truly endeavors to unify us, then the first thing he needs to do is to stop turning every disagreement into a battle between heroes and villains.

Watch Barack Obama in that debate and you see a man who is confident but not arrogant -- hence the regular acknowledgment of his opponent when they agree. He is sure of himself, yet thoughtful in the way he explains his position. He is more than capable of being Commander In Chief, yet just as interested in being Diplomat In Chief. Standing on that podium next to a fading shadow of our past, Barack Obama rises as a clear signpost to our future.

McCain has reduced himself to being his own history book, more interested in listing the stamps on his passport and forcing our collective groans at every mention of his maverickness and his POW imprisonment, than he is in providing us a vision of any real future under his leadership. Never mind the new cold war John McCain promises us with our enemies, what about the one he promises to perpetuate with our fellow Americans? Ask yourself this question, can you even imagine that kind of mannerless, undiplomatic, insulting discourteousness from Barack Obama? Not a chance. Obama's unwillingness to display anger may be something that his critics see as proof of his inability to win, but it happens to be the very quality that proves he can lead.

Read more reactions to the first presidential debate from HuffPost bloggers, including Nora Ephron, Bob Shrum, Madeleine Albright, Paul Reiser, Arianna Huffington, Sean Penn, Sheryl Crow, and more.