In This Election Season, Pondering Peace and Harmony

BY Gwen Ifill  October 22, 2010 at 12:26 PM EST

I’ve been giving a lot of thought during the waning days of this bitterly-fought midterm election campaign to the idea of peace and harmony.

“Come on,” you say. “What does peace or harmony have to do with dead heat campaigns that could determine control of the House and the Senate?”

Not a lot, it turns out. I thought about it when I watched one candidate refuse to shake another’s hand after a debate in Kentucky this week. I thought about it again when I saw what spurred the snub – a particularly toxic campaign ad.

I thought about it when I watched the shaky amateur video of a candidate telling a room full of Hispanic students that some of them looked Asian.

I thought about it when a candidate sporting a fantastical white beard upstaged an entire gubernatorial debate by repeatedly shouting, “The rent’s too damn high.” Funny, but disruptive.

And I thought about it when I shared a stage in Cincinnati this week with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a luncheon for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

It is not an understatement to say that this experience was light years away from the nits and picks of American politics. The 75-year-old Dalai Lama, who has been in exile from his native Tibet for more than 50 years, comes across as an oasis of calm and peace. Even when his answers to my questions strayed into the mystic and spiritual, the audience hung on his every word. He joked that the secret to world overpopulation is that more people become nuns and monks. He suggested – still grinning – that we should also follow his regimen of rising at 3:30 a.m. and going to bed at 7:30 p.m. (How would we cover debates?)

But mostly, he projected the air of someone entirely at peace, even when he was scolding China for censorship. “Is he a free man,” I asked? “Yes,” he replied, “because freedom comes from within.” To say that he is a serene individual is an understatement.

Now, I realize it is too much to expect American politics to be this calm. I am perfectly aware that when a campaign staffer compares the opposing candidate to – to put it mildly — a lady of the evening, the gloves subsequently stay off.

In fact, later that same night in Cincinnati, incumbent Democrat Rep. Steve Driehaus who attended the Dalai Lama speech, and Republican Steve Chabot, who Driehaus unseated last cycle, met to debate.

“He’s running ads trying to scare seniors and telling them we’re going to cut Medicare benefits when we’re just reducing overspending and doing the right thing,” Driehaus said, according to an account in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“My mother-in-law got an ad piece from Mr. Driehaus,” Mr. Chabot responded, “showing me with a sledgehammer coming after senior citizens.”

A man in Tampa, Fla., asked me the next day when Washington Democrats and Republicans were going to get their act together and start getting things done. I confess I had no ready answer. For the moment, I guess I’ll just go back to pondering peace and harmony.

Gwen’s Take is cross-posted with the Washington Week website. Click here for list of guests on this Friday’s roundtable.