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Political opponents demonstrate better angels of our nature

If it were possible to travel back in time, I would go back 150 years yesterday to Nov. 6, 1860, the day Honest Abe Lincoln was elected 16th president of the United States.

Then, just as it is now, our nation festered with angst and polarization. Fear and frustration permeated a land being pulled apart by a spreading political Grand Canyon.

Out of those troubled times stepped this tall nominee who was short on looks and with a reedy voice. With his gawky appearance, this humble fellow would likely stand little chance of being elected on the national level now, given today's polished politicians and their army of advisers.

Lincoln gave a long, drawn-out first inaugural speech. It was not his finest presentation, but it revealed glimpses of his deep wisdom.

"We are not enemies, but friends," he stressed. "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection."

The great emancipator who would lead us through what was arguably our greatest crisis in the Civil War called on Americans to remember "the better angels of our nature."

Obviously, those angels were in short supply back in his day just as they are now.

I bring this up because some of those better angels of our nature are still around. They guided the race to fill the Jackson County Board of Commissioners seat held by Dave Gilmour, a Democrat not running for re-election.

Candidates John Rachor, a Republican, and Democrat Mark Wisnovsky did not call into question each other's parentage. They did not go negative.

Theirs was a class act that avoided dipping even a toe into gutter politics. They took the political high road.

Their friends will tell you they are known for their sense of fair play. Rachor is a Central Point resident and former owner of eight Burger King franchises. Jacksonville resident Wisnovsky owns Valley View Winery in the Applegate Valley.

Both are congenial fellows, the kind who are fishing-boat friendly. You wouldn't feel the urge to pitch either one overboard at the end of the day.

In fact, during the campaign, Rachor called Wisnovsky to chat and offered to drop by to help him pick grapes during the annual harvest.

"Mark has become a good friend of mine," Rachor said on election night. "We just have a difference on land use issues."

He said he respected the Democrat for his views and his campaign ethics.

Wisnovsky was equally complimentary of the GOP candidate, one he now also calls a good friend.

"I was proud to have him as an opponent," Wisnovsky said. "We showed we could have a well-run race that focused on the issues."

Rachor won, by the way, but you have a sense the two will work together in the future for the betterment of our community. That bodes well for our county, which could be considered a political microcosm of our country.

In the interest of openness, I am registered as a non-affiliated voter and vote for the candidate I figure would do the best job, regardless of party affiliation. Yet I have been just as guilty of spouting political horse hockey as the next voter.

Rachor and Wisnovsky reminded us that political differences can be discussed without name calling or yelling, without screaming or shouting. They showed us there can be a better way.

Although they represent a tiny part of our political world, their words and actions demonstrated that democracy doesn't have to be mean and nasty. They have shown that candidates can air opposing ideas without foaming at the mouth.

Yes, they could even pick grapes together.

Consider what Lincoln said in his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865 after four years of civil war:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all," he began. "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds ... to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves."

In other words, to heed our better angels.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.