Election Day has come and gone and, for those of us whose candidates did not prevail, we can either lick our wounds or look toward the future with optimism.
Losing an election produces an acute pain that in time subsides into a dull ache. It hurts, but you learn to cope. You live to fight another day and, if you fought the good fight, you take away from the experience a sense of what is good and what is important. You come away with some portion of your ideals and self-respect intact.
Everyone says this was an election of mandates and messages. Indeed, given the ubiquity of social networks and other online vehicles, it was much easier to gauge the mood of fellow voters.
Because of the echo chamber created by incessant polling, cable news, the blogosphere, and viral and social media, what was said, seen and heard seems to have cut deeper than in the past. This time around we witnessed unpleasant things that will likely stay with us. But what was good will also endure.
Here, then, is what I learned from the election.
• Mark Twain was right: The great humorist noted that a lie gets half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. In other words, by the time a myth is dispelled, the damage is done. And so it was with the disinformation campaign(s) against Eliot Cutler.
Cutler was forced to combat these slurs just as he was making measurable headway with undecided voters. The negative campaigns against him cost him time and may have delayed his surge in the polls just enough to cause him to come up short.
• Dave Barry was right, too: Cutler’s campaign may have been wounded by the negative onslaught, but the damage to those who circulated the offending mailers and “push polls” will be more lasting, which leads me to a quote from another great American humorist, Dave Barry: “Democrats seem to be nicer people, but they have demonstrated time and again that they have the management skills of celery.”
It cannot be good for the Maine Democratic Party to have countenanced the trashing of another candidate and then to have hidden behind the artifice of “unaffiliated” organizations that orchestrated the effort.
I haven’t encountered too many Democrats who are currently inclined to break out their checkbooks.
• People aren’t just angry, they’re mean: I can understand a frustrated taxpayer who feels that incumbents have had enough of an opportunity to improve the economy. I can understand expressing that frustration by voting out the old and ushering in the new, though the new may be untested and inexperienced.
I can’t, however, accept the visceral and grotesque anger that some voters feel towards other voters. Savage commentary towards candidates may be ugly if not unexpected, but vicious attacks against those who have the temerity simply to support another candidate have no place in public discourse.
No candidate is entitled to an office, or even a clear path to office, simply because he or she has put in the time and paid his dues. Dedication and commitment are surely factors to be considered, but our electoral system, like our economy, depends upon and in fact thrives upon the influx of new ideas and new energy.
The last time I checked, we have elections in this country, not coronations.
I was disappointed to see so many descend into the abyss of anger and vitriol. As a recent president and formidable campaigner once said, “We can do better.”
• Our best days are ahead of us: You might think, given the foregoing, that this election has left me disillusioned and bereft of hope. Quite the contrary. During the course of the campaign, we had the opportunity to meet the candidates. We poked them, prodded them and tried them on for size. We made our choices and we will live with the outcome. Ours is a resilient system, and Maine is a resilient state.
But resilience depends upon enthusiastic, energetic, committed and, yes, idealistic people willing to work, sacrifice and believe in something larger than themselves.
In Maine, our future depends upon a commitment not only to building a just society, but to fostering a culture that rewards innovation and allows risk takers an honest reward.
Ours is a nation where ideas and ideals still matter. Few have prospered by betting against the people of the United States. Nor should anyone doubt the energy and will of the people of Maine.
I’m convinced our best days lie ahead of us, and I’m looking forward to the journey.