In most any relationship, when feelings get hurt, we tend to be hypersensitive. The tone of voice, the words, the body language can all trigger further rounds of feeling attacked, dismissed, belittled, etc.

The same is true in politics and policy. “There they go again!” “You know what they were really saying!” “Can you believe they did that?”

The more we read and listen in our daily lives, the more we’re led to believe that one side wants to tear down the government, throw people into the streets and restore the “good old days.” The other side, we’re told, wants government to take over all of our daily activities and tell us how to live our lives, and all at taxpayer expense. Both sides, we’re told, want to save our freedom.

There are elements of truth in both extremes. The beauty of elections is that when a large percentage of the public votes, they tend to just nudge the pendulum in one way or the other over a period of years and, then, predictably, they nudge it the other way. Though economic issues tend to move the dial the farthest, sometimes the impetus simply can be fatigue.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama was about the nation sending a message that it was fatigued with George W. Bush and anyone else representing the status quo of the Bush years. Obama’s message of hope and change was an oasis for voters in the beaten and bare earth of ideas and behavior. Voters knew what they didn’t want.

With barely more than a year under his belt in the White House, however, the new president is experiencing the nation’s discontent based on economic policy (growing deficits), foreign policy (wars) and social policy (health care reform). He owns some of the issues and he has inherited others.

How he manages the hand he was dealt or the cards he has shuffled will be measured at the ballot box this November and, ultimately, when he stands for re-election in 2012.

In the meantime, the loudest and most vitriolic voices are getting louder from both extremes and the voters are trying to sort it all out through the lens of their own lives.

In Maine, voters will be subjected to a local version of this struggle from the two major parties, top-of-the-ticket independents and surrogate organizations. You’ll hear from one end, “Government is too big and jeopardizing the future of our children.” The other end will intone, “If they get elected, they’ll roll us back to the Stone Age and jeopardize the future of our children.”

Both ends declare they have the answer and the candidates who will make it happen. Hopefully, the candidates themselves will govern from the middle.

With emotions running high and savings accounts running low, this election demands that voters dig deeper sooner and get involved.

Though Labor Day is the unofficial kickoff of the fall election season, traditionally most people don’t tune in for another month, and just as quickly begin to complain, “I wish they’d stop fighting” and “I can’t wait until it’s all over.”

Your challenge is to determine what they are fighting about and whether you agree with how they plan to fix it. What in their experience suggests they can succeed in making government work efficiently, affordably and effectively?

Unlike in many recent elections, at lot is at stake here in Maine. Solutions to a lousy economy, unfunded pension costs, rising health care costs and shifting tax burdens are all dependent on whom you choose to represent you in Augusta. Government has to function just as the private sector has to create jobs. One does not happen without the other.

There is reason to believe that the day after the election, the Blaine House, the Senate and the House of Representatives could be divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Not only does the race for governor have three independent candidates, but there are numerous candidates unaffiliated with either major party running for the Legislature.

Independents or Green Party candidates could hold the balance of power. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Often, candidates write two speeches for election night; one that declares the victory of their values and vision, the other that thanks their supporters and wishes the victor the best of luck. Then, they go home and the fight starts all over again.

This year, those speeches from winners and losers should be different. This year, the winners should genuinely ask for the help of the losers and the losers should genuinely ask: “What can I do to help?”

The measure of their statesmanship will be following through.

That doesn’t mean accepting the outcome but rather influencing it from the inside.

What do you think and what are you willing to do about it?

 

Tony Payne is a lifelong Maine resident active in business, civic and political affairs. He can be reached at:[email protected]