As we consider this year’s election and are pulled this way and that by campaigns eager for our vote, we’re beset by increasingly rancorous debate that spans the national elections to local elections. What we hear on the airwaves seems to give license to us to be equally bitter with each other as we engage in debate. U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s exit is a tragic example of how we lose good leadership when we don’t enable our representatives to engage in good government. It was not always this way. Maine has always led the country with our pragmatic, reasonable approach toward politics. Compromise has been our way of life, not a dirty word. Despite our differences, neighbors help each other, whether it is with a casserole when someone is sick, wood to help heat when there is no money for oil or a fundraiser for a family whose child is sick. We have also always known that the land in our great state has multiple blessings, whether for recreation, logging, farming or hunting. Mainers are a people with differences of opinion, but we’ve always managed to meet in the middle.
Our national electorate is almost evenly divided between social conservatives and social liberals. Layered on that is a difference of opinion about how to get ourselves out of the fiscal mess we’re in. If the approach we get from our elected officials is not to represent and govern for both sides, there will only be winners and losers.
Both sides of the aisle, instead of moving toward each other, are moving further and further apart. The Republican party is unrecognizably to the right of the Republican party of Reagan. The Democratic party doesn’t understand their president, who has embraced drone warfare and social program cuts. The Republicans vilify the president for policies that are to the right of Nixon, saying that they don’t go far enough. The far left pressures ever harder for social changes that are anathema to the Christian Right. Personal vilification has replaced cogent argument.
It is an explosive mix, and nobody is keeping the matches away from the fuse. In fact, it feels like our representatives are the ones eager to blow up the powder keg rather than lead us through reasonable compromise. Whose interest does it serve to keep us divided? Certainly not mine, but maybe those who want to stay in power? The irony is that while they are in power, they are powerless to get anything done.
Maine’s tradition is to elect uniters, not dividers. The current situation in Congress presents a unique opportunity, because both sides of the debate will need to court representatives unchained by a strict pledge to outside interests or beholden to intemperate and uncompromising positions.
This philosophical divide is not going to change for a while — such demographics take generations to move. What can change, however, is how we choose to bridge that divide. Political discourse has become bitter and divided, and there is more focus on “winning” than governing. I remember the first time I was shocked to hear a U.S. Senate leader state that their party is the “ruling” party. Such sentiments are the stuff of Parliament, not Congress. Our system was designed to protect all Americans, weak and strong, not just the “winners.” Rule in America is about responsibility, about porch-step reasoning, about cordial difference of opinion that recognizes we are all patriots who love our country.
The American people deserve better than political parties that pursue power so that they can “rule.” We deserve better than politicians who coarsely bellow that their way is the only way. We deserve better than bellicose taunting on the airwaves. We need true leadership which seeks to win by coming to agreement, seeking common ground and finding solutions that, while not perfect for everyone, come close enough that we can all live with them and move forward.
We are all Americans and we all love our country. Vote for candidates for your town, for your state representatives, for your national representatives who express willingness to work with the other side for solutions, not candidates who take “pledges” or espouse uncompromising positions. Save our country by seeking common ground with your neighbors. Find things to agree on and agree to work on the things we don’t agree on. Embrace and listen to your opponents’ ideas, and give them credit for wanting to help America stay great.
Invite your neighbor up on your porch and find that common ground, and hopefully, as Maine goes, so will the nation once more.
Eric Treworgy is a software executive living in Surry.