Sifting the ashes of the election

Spoiler alert: You will not find any election analysis here. The Tuesday election had not yet been held when the filing deadline for this column rolled around. So we are, for all intents and purposes, speechless.

We could discuss the Smoot-Hawley Tariff or the Glass-Steagall Act. We could revisit Keating-Owen or Davis-Bacon or Norris-Rayburn. No, no, no, it just won’t do.

We could look back at the high points of the presidential campaigns, but there were none. The low points? Too low, and too many. Or we could go back to bed with an ice pack, a martini, a therapy dog, a lavender-scented neck warmer and an alarm clock set for, say, June.

Instead, let us ponder this: Does what just happened really work? We voters have been campaigned to a fare thee well, left like roadkill in the tracks of campaign bandwagons, flattened, bloodied and moribund. Can this be by design?

How about those phone calls we have been getting for the last two months? Voters are united in their opinion that these range from the annoying to the infuriating. So why do campaigns utilize them? Early on, calls were fielded with politesse, but by the end of October, with our phones ringing as many as 10 times a day, we had had it. No mas!

The robo-calls were easy. Though it was startling to hear our governor’s voice, or George Mitchell’s or Maine’s first lady’s in your very own ear, it was still easy to hang up. No harm, no foul.

More difficult were the calls placed by a real live person, possibly a local person, possibly someone you actually knew. Then all kinds of social dynamics kicked in. Being rude is not the done thing in Maine, so rather than slamming the phone down, we found ourselves apologizing. “Sorry, it’s not a good time.” Sorry, I don’t want to take a survey about my voting habits.” “Sorry, I’ve had seven calls already today, several from the same people, and I am sick to death of your bloody phone calls and this entire election, and I never want to hear your voice again.” (Sorry.)

People, does this work? The campaign experts say yes. It helps get out the vote. It “pushes” people to the decision for which the caller is hoping. But much of that calling gleans bits of information useful only to the caller in calculating how to further persecute us with more phone calls.

So what do the parties get out of making terminally annoying pests of themselves? Can this possibly endear them to the beleaguered voter who picks up on the other end? What is it like to be yelped at or hung up or berated or admonished all day long? Do these calls help us to make an informed voting decision? No, they do not.

Then there is the money. Buckets and buckets of money. The campaign spending is bad enough, but at least we can try to hold the candidates responsible for how they spend it. The out-of-state money is another story.

Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is instructive in this regard. According to the Bangor Daily News, the two candidates raised $6.3 million combined. Another $16 million (and counting) came from outside sources. This enabled the airing of a reported 333 TV ads per day in Maine, the most of any House district in the country. The country. For Bruce and Emily to snipe and huff and tsk and swat at each other. Lord, have mercy.

At the same time one campaign was tut-tutting about the “negativity” of the election season, ads flooding in from outside the state, embarrassingly sophomoric ads, cast political opponents as creepy, tax-and-spend, crony-capitalist, Washington-insider, career politician ne’er-do-wells, with all the attendant unflattering photography and excerpted sound clips that money could buy. Does this work? Did this help us decide?

If it did, shame on us.

Any direct interaction between candidates was unnecessarily snippy and sharp-elbowed. In one of the more hilariously farcical election rituals, when Emily Cain and Bruce Poliquin were confronted with the now inevitable dictate to “say something positive about each other,” each found a way to further batter his opponent, damning each other with faint praise and peevish retorts.

There were charges and counter-charges, lawsuits and ethics complaints. There were attacks, scurrilous and otherwise. The stench of hypocrisy, revisionism and false piety was strong in the air. There was the extraordinary spectacle of Americans cheering the Russian head of state and chanting “Lock her up!,” referring to one presidential candidate at a rally for another.

Have we gotten the election we deserve? Does this strategy devised by wealthy men (yes, mostly men) out of the public eye work to keep them in control of the levers of government? Well, yes.

It is time to identify leaders who can understand the hopes and needs of the vast middle of us and who speak to those hopes and needs in a positive, not a negative, way. And we, the people, need the wisdom to know the difference.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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