US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney took a moment off from their political bashing this week to share a heartfelt thought in response to a tragedy.


The week started off with the usual, with the political battle raging across the pages of the World Wide Web.


First, Romney was greeted by extensive booing when he told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of his plans to repeal Obamacare. Several versions of the clip went viral on YouTube, but only a few showed his response, a cool-headed, deft political pivot that even won him some polite applause:




Worse, Romney was suffering from an embarrassing report in the Boston Globe that showed he was still in charge of his company Bain Capital until 2002, three years after he said he left. Romney had pointed to his earlier departure date to deflect criticism from the Obama campaign about companies purchased by Bain going bankrupt, and workers losing their jobs.


An Obama campaign video featuring Romney singing “America the Beautiful” alongside headlines about him outsourcing jobs garnered over a half-million views.


Viral Video of the Week:


Suddenly, the conversation changed. The Drudge Report, a conservative news aggregation site, reported that former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was on Romney’s short list for vice president. The report, which seemed to have little basis in reality, played on the Romney campaign’s strategy of auctioning off a chance to meet the soon-to-be-announced VP nominee for a small donation, itself a copy of the Obama team’s fundraising trick offering donors a chance to dine with the US president or obtain front-row tickets to star-studded fundraisers


The report captured the media’s imagination, and Rice’s name was suddenly all over Twitter, with nearly 9,000 mentions in two days.


Tweet of the Week:




But many were skeptical - Rice herself has said over and over again that she is not interested in politics. In fact, many believed Drudge was trying to divert the media--rather effectively--from Romney’s woes.




The second deft political pivot seemed to have worked, however, and the GOP and its allies kept happily playing on the ailing economy, and trying to close the gender gap in video releases:






Yet, through the yelling and shouting and willingness to do or say just about anything to inch closer to the securing four years on top of the world, both campaigns stopped for a moment of gracious silence when Alex Okrent, a 29-year-old staffer on the Obama campaign suddenly collapsed at the US president’s Chicago headquarters and died. A Chicago native, Okrent had first worked with Obama on his 2004 US Senate campaign.


The US president tweeted the news--signing his tweet “-bo” to indicate it was a personal, and not a campaign tweet--and called the family to offer his condolences.




Romney responded in kind, eliciting a courteous “Thank You” from Obama advisor David Axelrod, who usually has only pointed attacks for Romney: 




The moment of humanity served as a powerful reminder that behind all the slogans and politics and political aspirations are real people, people who care enough about their country to devote their time and effort and careers to creating a better polity. The advisors of the opposing teams know each other, and even if they disagree on most issues probably respect each other.


Those who knew him best described Alex as a bright, gregarious and passionately political person.  


On a personal note, I can attest that they were right. Like many of the remarkable people I’ve had the privilege of knowing, I met Alex as a student at Wesleyan University. For a time, we both lived in Washington DC, where we occasionally found ourselves talking politics over a beer with mutual friends. Perhaps fittingly, I learned of Alex’s death via Facebook, when I noticed a slew of people referring to him in the third person in notes on his wall. 


To die unexpectedly at such a young age is an inexplicable tragedy. One can only hope that in the future, such a misfortune will not be necessary for the parties to find an opportunity to put aside their adversity and share a common moment of humanity.


Click here for special JPost coverage#USelections2012 offers weekly insight into the US presidential election through a social media lens, tracking candidates as they try to reach 270 electoral votes in 140 characters or less.

The writer is a Breaking News editor and blogger at The Jerusalem Post. Read his blog ‘The Bottom Line’ here

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