You’re a Good Man, Charlie Gibson

A classy move at Saturday's Manchester debate

Saturday night’s GOP/Democratic debate featured an unusual moment: ABC’s Charlie Gibson, its moderator, took advantage of the debate’s back-to-back, Republicans-then-Democrats format to ask all the candidates, from both parties, to share the stage:

I just want to take a moment—and I want the audience to stay in place. We tend in these debates—and I thank all of them for being here—to focus on differences.

But I think everyone agrees that what unites us as Americans is greater than what divides us.

And so, since tonight is unique, and since we have candidates of both parties here, I want to ask all of them to share the stage for a moment, just greet one another, as evidence that in one year, we will all come together to support our new president, someone who will be on this stage.

So just for a moment, I’d like to ask Senators Clinton and Edwards, Obama, Governor Richardson to join us on stage.

Obama, Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson trickled onto the stage, joining the GOP candidates who were already there for post-debate photo-opping. The pols shook hands and chatted collegially as the audience at Manchester’s St. Anselm College cheered them on. It was a moment of solidarity, of transcendence, of bipartisan camaraderie. It was almost inspirational.

It was also almost…awkward. There was much overly-familiar-grasping-of-upper-arms, even more overly-wide, frozen grins—and enough close-talking (see McCain and Edwards, here) to drive Jerry Seinfeld insane. Huckabee and Obama got especially chummy, the former-governor whispering intently to the senator. (What did he say? “If you mess with me, Chuck is backstage,” Huckabee told Fox News, referring to his Campaign Trail Bosom Buddy, Chuck Norris.) And just to keep things extra interesting, there were five Republicans and only four Democrats to chat up…and it was often Fred Thompson who lost out in this chat-a-‘Crat version of musical chairs.

Still, Gibson had a good idea—and, simple as it was, it was a nice reminder in this time of hyper-partisanship. “What you saw in that moment is a testament to democracy,” the Boston Globe’s James Pindell told debate cosponsor WMUR in the debate’s spin room. “And to the power of New Hampshire.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.