Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Small Town Vt. Election Shows What's Right, Wrong About Politics

Like almost every journalist in the nation, I spent election day covering the outcome of the balloting.

The back bumper of a truck parked at a polling place,
Milton, Vermont election day 11/6/12
I stopped in the relatively small town of Milton, Vermont to check in on things there. I got a lesson on everything that's both wrong and right with the nation's political climate.

Most of it scene in Milton was standard issue election fare. Candidates stood next to the parking lot, holding campaign signs and greeting voters. Town residents said hi to each other as they came in and out of the municipal building, where the election was being held. A bake sale benefitted the town's upcoming 250th birthday celebration.

But in the middle of the parking lot was a jarring scene. A guy had parked his truck there, it's back bumper festooned with virulently anti-Obama stickers. Signs with grammatical and spelling errors also pointed out the man's hatred of Obama.

"Obama: Why Stupid People Shouldn't Vote," read one bumper sticker. A hand made sign read: "Warning: Obama may win the election but Americans will loose (sic) it all. Our country is being stolen."

The man put flyers under the windshield wipers of the voters' cars as they were inside casting ballot. The paper listed a lot of reasons why he thought we shouldn't have voted for Obama: "Deminished (sic) America's strengths. To make America more Acceptable to his Muslum (sic) brothers.

This man represents what's wrong with American politics. No, there was nothing wrong with people supporting Romney or Obama.  Many perfectly reasonable people thought Romney would make the best president, and many perfectly reasonable people thought Obama would be best.

The election turned out to be Obama's.

The problem came when all too often, the political discussion was hijacked by people like the angry man in the Milton, Vermont parking lot. There's people like him lurking on both the political right and left.

Rather than have a somewhat intelligent debate on whether Obama or Romney's approach was best, some people resort to these wild attacks not based on reality.

For the record: No, Obama is not some communist dictator set to completely control our lives. No, Romney was not some capitalist  gone amok intent on impoverishing us all so he could rake in billions. Both are smart guys with flaws like we all have, both sometimes self-serving, who had two starkly different visions of how America should move forward.

The Loopy Lous I guess have the right to spout their idiocy. But really, they're not helping. That's what's wrong with American politics. It just makes everybody angry. And until this election, I thought it maybe would turn people away from engaging in voting, in politics, in the country's future

But here's what's right with the way the election system: Almost everybody who came to vote in Milton either ignored the guy with the whacked out signs, or engaged in brief conversations with him, just to be polite.

Those voters calmly walked into the municipal building, calmly cast ballots and calmly walked out to go on with their days.

A Republican candidate for representative in the Vermont House campaigning at the Milton municipal building who wanted Romney to win made it clear to whoever would listen that he had no affiliation with the guy and all those weird signs.

John Cushing, the Milton Town Clerk, shrugged his shoulders and said the scene in the parking lot was just American free speech at work.

Maybe some of the wackos thought they would demoralize those they hated, and they wouldnt turn out to vote, and that would help them win.

Instead, there might have been a backlash. A small part of the reason many people voted, weighed in, was because they wanted their rational voices heard above the din of political insanity.

I took comfort that, despite all the attention paid to the loopy reactionaries, it turns out the vast majority of Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, quietly made up their own minds, stayed away from the fireworks, soberly voted and hoped for the best.

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