On 9/11, Obama-McCain (Briefly) Unite

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l. to r.: Mary Altaffer / AP; Mark Lennihan / AP; Mike Munden / Getty

They are a point or two apart in the polls. They seem to shadow each other from battleground state to battleground state. And now they are hurling words at each other like longshoremen.

But on Thursday, Sept. 11, John McCain and Barack Obama will take a break. A brief moment of silence will descend on the presidential campaign. Call it a pause. Or maybe a cease-fire.

Above all, call it temporary — and there's still a chance that it won't happen at all. (In fact, if you're in a betting mood, you might want to throw some money at the won't-happen-at-all option.)

In any case, here's the plan:

The two candidates will gather briefly at the site of the World Trade Center to mark the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Neither man will speak at the site; they will instead bear witness to the tragedy that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa., and left thousands of others wounded. It is enough that they would stand side-by-side to mark the anniversary. "We will put aside politics and come together," the two men said in a statement released jointly.

Earlier in the day, Obama will tackle another reconciliation mission: a long-planned lunch with former President Bill Clinton in Harlem, the home of Clinton's post-presidential offices. Later, in the evening, McCain and Obama will intersect again for half-hour appearances at a TIME-sponsored forum on national service at Columbia University.

The candidates will not speak together at the forum, but they will both participate in a discussion about national service with TIME managing editor Rick Stengel and PBS's Judy Woodruff.

Said one Midwestern Republican, "Obama and McCain are having a playdate on Thursday."

The break in the action comes at a moment when the nation seems anything but peaceful and its politics far from unified. In the past several days, the presidential campaign has taken on a desperate — and at times downright pathetic — turn.

Longtime Democrats have been spooked right to the edge of their windowsills by the resurgence of McCain and his superstar running mate, Sarah Palin.

Republicans, meanwhile, have sunk to familiar depths in accusing Obama of championing sex education for kindergartners and seizing on an innocent but perhaps ill-timed comment by Obama about lipstick and a pig to suggest that the Democratic nominee was making a sexist aside.

Perhaps this little time-out is just what everybody needs, to reassess the campaign's trajectory — maybe even restore some class to the operation. But even if peace breaks out between the principals, its impact will be muted unless the campaigns muzzle their packs of opposition bloodhounds, counter-punchers and surrogates who produce round-the-clock e-mails to supporters and reporters about their rivals' many shortcomings.

Now there's a proposition with long odds.

(See photos of Sept. 11 here.)