More unites us than divides us. That was evident on the Democratic candidates' debate stage last week. But, as the contenders pointed out, common values also are evident across our country.
Yet Fox News, never one to unite when it can instead divide, proclaimed, "Democratic presidential debate question about Ellen sparks outrage."
Actually, Anderson Cooper's question was about sparking American unity. The news host prefaced the query with the example of Ellen DeGeneres and former President George W. Bush sharing a friendly moment at a baseball game. "In that spirit, we'd like you to tell us about a friendship that you've had that would surprise us and what impacts it's had on you and your beliefs," Cooper said.
The answers may be far more telling about the candidates for our highest office than any of their policies.
* Joe Biden, though the last called on to answer, focused the question. Not only did he relate a story about his long friendship with John McCain, but in his reply, he acknowledged that all the other candidates' answers were reassuring. "We're all acknowledging that we have to reach across the aisle to get things done. [There's] no other way to get anything done in this country."
McCain, on his deathbed, asked Biden to deliver his eulogy, and Biden seemed to credit the late senator, war hero and former presidential candidate with his own presidential run "to restore the soul of America."
"I would say to John, 'John, you didn't see a war you never wanted to fight.' And he'd say, 'You didn't see a problem you never wanted to solve.' But he was a great man of principle. He was honorable. He was honorable. ... That's the reason why I'm running. We have to restore the soul of this country. ... We have to restore people's dignity. ... We have to unite the country."
* Pete Buttigieg spoke of the friendships he formed in the military — "people who were radically different from me, different generation, different race, definitely different politics. And we learned to trust each other with our lives. When they got into my vehicle and when we went outside the wire, they didn't care if I was going home to a boyfriend or a girlfriend, they didn't care what country my dad immigrated from and whether he was documented or not. We just learned to trust each other."
* Cory Booker ticked off several eye-openers: "I go to Bible study in Chairman Inhofe's office. He and I pass legislation together to help homeless and foster kids. I went out to try to invite every one of my Republican colleagues to dinner. And let me again say, finding a dinner at a restaurant, agreeing on one with Ted Cruz, was a very difficult thing. I'm a vegan, and he's a meat-eating Texan.
"But I'll tell you this right now, this is the moment in America that this is our test. ... [Being isolationists] didn't get us to the Moon. It didn't beat the Nazis. It didn't map the human genome. It didn't beat Jim Crow. ... The fact that there's an openly gay man, a black woman, all of us on the stage are because we in the past are all inheritors of a legacy of common struggle and common purpose."
* Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar also mentioned John McCain, and Klobuchar zeroed in, recalling his final words of wisdom to her which he pointed to in a book: "There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself."
"That's what we're doing right now," she said of the 2020 campaign. "And while we have had major debates about policy, we have to remember that what unites us is so much bigger than what divides us. And we have to remember that our job is to not just change policy, but to change the tone in our politics, to look up from our phones, to look at each other, to start talking to each other."
* Tom Steyer spoke of his friendship with a black woman in South Carolina who's fighting for clean water and environmental justice in her community. She reminds him of his parents "in terms of her courage and her optimism and her honor." His father, who prosecuted Nazis at Nuremburg, told him "when you see something wrong in your society, you fight it from the first day and every single day after."
* Beto O'Rourke reminded us of the live-streamed, 1,600 mile road journey from San Antonio, Texas, to Washington that he made on a whim in 2017 with Republican House member Will Hurd after they learned that snow had grounded their plane in D.C. In a Chevy Impala, the conservative Hurd and the progressive O'Rourke found out "what we had in common," formed a friendship, and formed trust. "We worked with each other on each other's bills showing party leaders from either side that Republicans and Democrats could work together."
* Andrew Yang also had a road story: "The friendship that sticks out for me is a guy named Fred, who's an avid Trump supporter, a trucker. He let me ride in his truck for hours. He spent some time in jail. I heard about his experiences trying to get other people off of drugs. And I'm happy to say that, after our ride together, he actually said that he would move from Donald Trump to my campaign, which was a thrill for me. And we've remained in touch ever since."
Yang also reminded us that Trump won by talking not only of isolationism but also about turning back time — both of which are impossible. "We have to turn the clock forward. We have to accelerate our economy and society as quickly as possible. We have to evolve in the way we think about ourselves and our work and our value. It is not left. It is not right. It is forward. And that is where we must take the country in 2020."
* Elizabeth Warren spoke of family: "I have three elder brothers. They all served in the military. Two of the three are still Republicans. I love all three of my brothers. And there are a lot of things that we're divided on, but there are core things that we believe in together. We want to see all of our children get a good start in life. We don't want to see any of our friends or neighbors not get covered by health care. We're willing to get out there for the things we believe in." Other Americans are no different, she asserts.
* Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, spoke of her friendship with Republican Trey Gowdy and reminded us that "aloha" is not hello or goodbye, but "means I come to you with respect and a recognition that we're all connected, we're all brothers and sisters, we're all God's children." She cited Abraham Lincoln, "who talked about how we should have malice for none and charity for all." But then she ruined it by seeming to forget what year it is and who she's running against: "When I look out at our country, I don't see deplorables. ..."
* Kamela Harris said, "Probably Rand Paul. ... I invited him to join me on a bill to end the money bail system in the United States. He and I agree on almost nothing, but we agree on that. And after we joined forces, he said to me, "Kamala, you know, Appalachia loves this." And it really made the point that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us."
* Julian Castro, clearly caught off-guard by the friendship question when he was called on first, had no example. Instead, he used it to wield further division: "I think that we can be kind to people and also hold them accountable for their actions."
We'd be remiss if we didn't note that another lesson of the debate is why voters shouldn't use Twitter to help choose a candidate — though we might use it to help us eliminate some.
After the debate, Castro tweeted: "Three hours and no questions tonight about climate, housing, or immigration. Climate change is an existential threat. America has a housing crisis. Children are still in cages at our border. But you know, Ellen.#DemocraticDebate."
Harris, a few minutes later erased her name as well, tweeting: "Three hours. Not one question about the climate crisis. Not one question about LGBTQ+ rights. Not one question about immigration. These issues are too important to ignore. #DemDebate."
Apparently these two forgot that we've seen two different town hall debates — in which they participated — dedicated entirely to climate change and LGBTQ+ rights.
Indeed, these are all important issues. But so are civility, respect, cooperation and good old American unity.