Politics is Not a Dirty Word

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Yesterday I attended a caucus in my small town in Maine.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. Lately the political process has descended into this venomous proposition in which contempt and open hostility for “others” is condoned and even celebrated. Agreeing to disagree seems to be a flaw that is no longer acceptable. So when I walked in and saw various friends and acquaintances with Bernie buttons and Hillary stickers I wondered how our community politics would unfold.

We listened to candidates speak. Each getting enthusiastic applause. We attended to party business in selecting  our county officers and delegates. And then came the moment when we needed to stand up and walk to our corners of the room to physically announce our choice for presidential candidate.  As I saw friends stand, I tried to guess which direction they would move.  I knew demographically the younger ones would “Feel the Bern” and the older ones would “Stand With Hillary”.

I made my move and gazed about the room.  It was quiet and folks seemed to be making the same mental assessments as I was. Each “side” had a representative who came to speak for their candidate. To my great joy, there was no mudslinging.  No name calling. No belittling.  There was passion for their candidate and a warm embrace for their ‘opposition’. There was applause from all sides of the room after each speech. There was agreement that we were blessed with two wonderful candidates and did not have to “choose between the lesser of evils”.

I thought about David Brook’s NYTs editorial The Governing Cancer of Our Time in which he said, “Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

That is exactly what I was seeing before my eyes. This was politics as it should be. Those on the other side of the room were not my rivals.  They were not wrong.  I was not right. The heads were counted and a ‘winner’ emerged.  There was subtle applause and then we all mingled again.  Hugs. Handshakes. “See you tomorrow”s.

As David Brooks went on to say, “Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements.”  I no longer think of politics as a dirty word. It’s messy and sometimes disappointing, but it doesn’t have to be vitriolic and hateful. If more people, other than the angry and frustrated,  were a part of our politics we would more easily hammer out workable arrangements and bring civility back to the process.  I didn’t really want to caucus today. I just wanted to vote. But if I had stepped into that booth by myself, voted, and left I would not have witnessed what is good in politics. What it can be. What we need it to be.


Oh, in case you were wondering…

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12 thoughts on “Politics is Not a Dirty Word

  1. As an Iowan, this is what I love about the caucus system. Meeting with your neighbors, having intelligent conversations about the candidates and then deciding where your vote will go. I know there are rational thinkers out there. It’s nice to hear from one!

  2. I think that the “in person” element of caucuses creates more of a spirit of civility as opposed to the online world. The anonymity on the internet seems to bring out the worst in people.

    Good post. I enjoyed reading about your experience.

    1. I agree. When we see our neighbors face to face we see them as human, not ‘internet idiots’. It probably helped that we were all within the same political party-but I can’t say that’s always the case.

  3. Ok this will read weird but here goes. I like your post. I think you make a wonderful point about the civil civic nature of the caucus process.( which is increasingly dealing with some pushback)

    Found your juxtaposition regarding being alone in the voting booth as apposed to hugs and handshakes all around, smart and telling.

    But your quotes of Mr. Brooks produced a coffee fueled rant that went all Leo Straussian shinola like, and would just detract from your main point, which was not my initial intent.

    If I knew you, I might let the post fly, but I don’t, so I won’t. But I did want you to know how much your post fired up my Monday morning. Thanks for that.


    1. Hey Doug, glad I offered you some fuel to fire up on a Monday! Love that you experienced some Leo Straussian shinola-it’s been awhile since I heard that name tossed out there. Have a great week!

  4. Living in PA I have never been to a caucus, but it sounds so interesting. In fact, I didn’t know until this year that caucus can be a verb. Your post gives me hope, too. Thank you.

  5. It was so good to hear there are some people left who can agree to disagree. As teachers we have this discussion on strategies, expectations, what is considered mastery. A fellow colleague and I discussed how we are able to disagree and still talk with each other, and even be friends! I don’t know though, politics in today’s world looks pretty scary to me. I feel that New England, smaller towns, the Midwest have a better chance of discussing things with a reasonable tone. I lived and went to school in Vermont. It is a different environment there. People are more open to talking, maybe because they are “neighbors” and realize they still need to be a community and friends.

  6. Thanks for commenting on my slice about the Portland caucus and I’m glad I read yours! It’s good you had a real caucus experience- it was what I was hoping for. I’m so glad you shed light on the good side of politics and people. Thanks for sharing that post- makes me also feel proud of us Mainers

    1. From what my fellow Mainer friends have conveyed to me, their caucus (democratic) experience was just as civil and respectful. Made me think, “Maine..the way life should be” is more than a slogan!

  7. What a refreshing review of your caucus experience. I enjoyed this on so many levels, Paula, and I sure hope we can bring some civility back to the process.

  8. What a refreshing view on politics! I wish more people could be this way. My fear is that it is only going to get worse when the campaign ads start playing 24 hours a day. As someone not familiar with the caucus process, I enjoyed learning about it. Thank you!

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