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Civics and civility 101

March 19, 2010

I'm writing this on Monday, in my official village office - the Blue Moon.

It's the Ides of March and while that was a major bummer for Julius Caesar, it's A-OK with me.

First, I'm on spring break. All right, so it's not a spring break that'll ever be the subject of a video called Profs Gone Wild, but it suits me and my dotage just fine.

Next, on Tuesday I'm going to have dinner with an old pal I haven't seen or even been in touch with in 30 years.

Then, of course, Wednesday is St. Patty's Day. This'll give me a chance to shmooze with friends, wear my fabulous shamrock top hat and get weepy all 75 times "Danny Boy" gets played. In short, and in a fine Irish word, I'll indulge myself in all the malarkey.

But probably the main reason I'm so upbeat is because Tuesday is village Election Day. And so, come Wednesday, all the rancor, backbiting and bickering that preceded this election will be over. Or at least I hope it will, because it's the worst I've ever seen and I hope never to see the likes of it again.


The big picture

A quick note: The rotten behavior has not been the candidates' - they were paragons of civility. Instead, it's been the electorate's.

I think it all derives from state and national politics. With our politicians and pundits, cheap-shots, mudslinging, and out-and-out lies have become the norm. It's gotten so bad that if I ever heard one of those louts actually address an issue honestly and intelligently, I fear it'd prove too much for my delicate disposition.

But as vile as I find their behavior, it's an excellent strategy: If the politicians and their puppet masters and hangers-on can keep the electorate busy hating each other, they'll never have to do the jobs they're supposed to do, namely take care of the country and its citizens. Instead, they're free to feather their own nests, carry out the will of big business and divvy up the real pie for themselves, while down in the lower depths the Great Unwashed are busy slashing each other to ribbons and fighting for the crumbs.

You'd think there'd be enough common sense and insight in this great land of ours for most people to recognize this Hoodwinkery-as-Usual and the sorry state of affairs that've resulted from it for what they are, but apparently they haven't. So while the economy is going down the tubes, the governator of California can proclaim the worst of the recession's over, and everyone's either too jaded or too acquiescent to be outraged.

Of course, for a multi-millionaire married to a multi-millionairess (each with a great health plan) the recession never existed in the first place, and it never will, but what the hey.

So ultimately state and national politics consist of nothing more than getting elected, feathering the nest, making promises you've no intention of keeping, all the while encouraging more and more drastic lines to be drawn between "Them" and "Us."

And who are Them and Us?

The list is endless. The lines can be drawn between classes, incomes, races, religions, political parties and factions, geographic and demographic areas, professions - it doesn't matter. It only matters that the electorate is always at someone's throat, preferably each other's, so they never notice their real enemies are in the catbird seats in Albany and D.C.


The big deal

So what does all this have to do with politics in My Home Town?

Just this: Like in state and national politics, to the winners of the local elections go the spoils. However, unlike state and national politics, here there are no spoils. The sad truth is there just isn't enough money, power, prestige or perks to make a job in local politics anything but thankless hard work. And if there's any recognition to be had, it'll most likely be getting anonymously savaged on Talk of the Town.

Furthermore, while we have factions, sub-sects and lots of different opinions about everything, we're still too small and too isolated to have Us and Them.

Oh yeah, we can divide the village into castes, cabals, even consigliori if you're of a conspirational bent. But the ultimate truth is we're stuck with just Us, and that's who we're always going to be stuck with - if we're lucky.

So, if Saranac Lake progresses and prospers, it'll be for only one reason: All of us worked together in a spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and honorable compromise.

If, however, the village slides down the slippery slope of dysfunction, decline and depression, it'll be the fault of one group and one group only - us.



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