This may be as close as politics gets to a kumbaya moment in the entire 2010 election season.
This morning, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican, endorsed Democrat Joe Sestak's bid for Senator.
Few Pennsylvanian's could pick Hagel out of a line-up, of course, and he retired from the Senate in 2008. But the event was freighted with significance. Hosted near a statue of George Washington confabbing with Indian chief Guyasuta, the point of the event was to distinguish the moderate politics of Hagel -- and by extension Sestak -- from the tea-party right.
"When heavy winds blow ... you want steady guys at the tiller," Hagel said, later adding, "I have never felt ... that trying to degrade your opponent really has any value."
More than once, Hagel denounced the emergence of "reckless" and "irreponsibile rhetoric," and said that Americans "want responsible leaders who speak responsibly."
Hagel was clearly not endorsing Sestak's stance on all the issues -- "I don't know all of Joe's positions [and] I suspect I disagree with him on a number of things" he acknowledged -- but rather a less divisive approach to political discourse. He lamented the possibility that people might be "intimidated out" of politics "by all this wild rhetoric."
Implicit in all this, of course, is that Sestak's rival, GOP nominee Pat Toomey, is part of the problem. While Toomey has moderated his message this election season, he's long been the choice of the GOP wing that never forgave Rick Santorum for backing Arlen Specter in 2004. But when asked by a reporter to comment on Toomey's own record, Hagel demurred, calling Toomey "a good man [whose] views are his views."
Sestak picked up on the theme. He lauded George Washington for being "willing to reach out to the other side," as demonstrated by the sculpture nearby, and pledged to do the same. In fact, Sestak sounded sincere enough that local politico John DeFazio spoke up from the audience, urging Sestak not to go easy on his rival: Toomey, said DeFazio, "was a terrible Congressman for the middle class and the poor."
DeFazio needn't have worried. Even as Sestak and Hagel were speaking, the Democratic National Committee was sending out a blast e-mail that noted
an Associated Press story reporting that Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul got money from the operator of a pornographic Web site. the reason it mattesr here? Republican Senate nominee Pat Toomey also got $4,800 from the site's owner ...
Toomey's campaign hardly hurried to distance itself from the donor in question.
"We have over 50,000 indivudal donors," Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik told the AP. "Many of those supporters do not agree with Pat Toomey on every issue ... We're happy to have those supporters, even if we differ on some issues."
Well, I'll say this: The fact that Pat Toomey relies on smut peddlers for financial support may be the one thing he and I have in common.
But political cycnicism was intruding even before Hagel and Sestak made their appearance. Some have wondered about Hagel's motives. The Washington Post, for example, has suggested that Hagel's support was really a "me for me" endorsement:
... [I]t seems clear that Hagel's endorsement is more about his own future political prospects than those of Sestak. The simple fact is that Hagel is virtually unknown in Pennsylvania and his endorsement of Sestak won't even register with most Keystone State voters.
But, endorsing a Democrat in a high profile Senate contest could well help Hagel -- sending a clear signal to the Obama Administration about the very loose ties that he retains to the Republican party.
Hagel has made no secret of his interest in serving in the Obama Administration ...
After the press conference broke up, I asked Hagel to respond to this characterization of his motives.
"What's to respond to?" he asked. "I came out here for Joe Sestak. The White House didn't ask me to come here. Joe Sestak did."