The campaign signs started being removed Wednesday, and we're thankful for that tangible evidence the election is over. But we're also thankful to the people whose names were on those signs, who put their necks on the line in hopes of serving the public.
People love to complain about politicians, and yes, the job comes with traits that can be annoying. But the same goes for other professions; they're just not on public display all the time.
We need representatives in order to govern ourselves. They're there to serve us. Many of the problems come when they serve themselves at our expense. There sure are plenty of opportunities for that.
Even when lawmakers are doing their jobs ethically, it drives people crazy when they bicker and dither without getting things done. Now, especially, our federal government has an unusual level of gridlock in the face of scary dilemmas. It's hard for our Congress members to break that, though, because anything that might happen would involve compromise - that is, accepting things they see as dangerous or wrong, for the sake of a greater common good. They have many constituents and other advocates pulling them in other directions, and often they're personally not inclined to give ground from what they think is best. You can't please everyone.
Many describe American government as broken. Certainly the systems could work better. But here's the good news: While the system may be broken, it's easy to fix, in theory.
Often, the problems aren't so much what a constitution prescribes as what it doesn't, and what it thereby allows: filibusters, huge deficits and debt, campaign donation bribes, blocking popular bills from the floor, unfunded mandates to state and local government, presidential warmongering, etc. But the structure allows cooperation as well as stalemate. To stop these things by changing rules would take years; to do it by choice could happen right away. The way forward is for our elected leaders to choose to govern the nation for the common good rather than for various, particular interests. It's so simple it's silly - but not easy to accomplish, as we all know. The way is laid out smoothly; we just need the will.
North Country politics now
Looking at Americans' collective votes Tuesday, it seems clear that a slight majority sees a more familiar, comfortable reflection of themselves and their desires in the Democrats than the Republicans. The majority is much more than slight in our neck of the woods, though. Franklin County went for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 9,065-5,248; in Essex County, it was 8,805-5,976.
People didn't give the Democrats a blank check, though: Republicans will keep their majority in the House, and our part of New York elected two GOP Assembly members. We think that's largely because the Democrats still lack a credible plan for paying for the government they want. People want deficit spending stopped and the nation's $16 trillion debt paid down.
The North Country is no longer a GOP stronghold. It now seems to be moderate, purple, pragmatic. People here have decided that Barack Obama, Bill Owens, Janet Duprey and Dan Stec fit that bill more than their opponents.
Democrats recently are finding success in a big-tent approach, uniting under moderates like President Obama, Rep. Owens and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Republican Party, especially in New York, has suffered even more splintering than Democrats did in 2004, when they tepidly supported nominee John Kerry after a blistering primary against such staunch liberals as Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. Moderate Republicans still hold office, like Ms. Duprey, but they're embattled.
The North Country's right wing has become active, organized and stubborn, as seen in Karen Bisso's campaign. She gave no quarter after being blown out of the water by Ms. Duprey, lambasting the winner and calling her corrupt.
The region's left wing, by contrast, is pretty darn loose these days, as seen in Donald Hassig's campaign. He's been an activist up here seemingly forever, but at any other time the Green Party could have gotten a less fringe-y candidate to challenge a pro-business centrist like Rep. Owens. Two days before the election, Mr. Hassig ended up asking his supporters to vote for Rep. Owens.
Hard work together
From where we sit, it seems most people want the partisans to work together to make our nation and world more sustainable.
U.S. lawmakers can, if they choose, break the gridlock and break down party barriers. They can work out a balanced plan to cut the federal debt instead of passing it on to many subsequent generations, which will see our deficit spending in hindsight as selfish and negligent. It is, as Republicans properly name it, a moral issue.
The problem is, any such solution will require sacrifices for Americans, and when people complain, politicians tend to react.
Some or all of us may have to pay more taxes - perhaps through raised rates, closed loopholes or eliminated credits - as prior generations did. Those receiving government entitlements may have to figure out how to do with less, again as prior generations did. Companies, farms and researchers may have to stop getting so much government money. States may have to once again fund their schools without federal aid. Our military focus may have to shift somewhat from offense and global policing toward defense. We may have to give less pacification money to other countries. Students and colleges may have to do with less federal tuition aid.
In our view, all of these sacrifices would be good for the American people. It would mean we're taking responsibility. Morally, it's better to suck in our guts than rack up so many comforts on someone else's tab.
Our main wish in the wake of election is that Tuesday's winners, and those who weren't up for re-election, live always by their better nature, which is selfless service to all. We believe it's the dominant calling in all but a few of them.
And we urge citizens to be as responsible and selfless as they expect their leaders to be, and to let them know they're willing to give a little personally for the good of the nation they love. The politicians will listen, even if it takes a while.