hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial October 2018



As midterm vote nears, take it down a notch


As this issue goes to press, the national news is focused on the bitter battle over a Supreme Court nomination.

We’re in a week of limbo between the dramatic testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh and the completion of a highly anticipated but limited FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Even by the standards of our hyper-partisan era, the rancor between our two warring camps – not to mention the volume of the shouting -- seems to be breaking all prior records. No matter which side “wins” this battle, it seems it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

Watching the events of the past week, it would be easy to conclude, as some commentators have suggested, that we have entered into a kind of “cold civil war.” Our red and blue factions barely seem able to understand each other, and increasingly they subscribe to utterly different views of reality. Worse, each side seems to view the other not as merely confused but as contemptible.

Among our political leaders, the moderate is a vanishing breed, and extremists on each side now cast any effort at compromise or bipartisanship as an act of treason rather than of statesmanship.

This can’t be healthy for our democracy – or for our civic life in general.
And yet, when we put politics aside, we still find that people are capable of great acts of kindness and compassion – even people with whom we wouldn’t dare discuss the upcoming election.
More to the point, despite what the era of Twitter and Trump might suggest, it’s still true that lots of people’s beliefs and experiences don’t allow them to fit neatly into a red or blue box. It might just be that our divisions aren’t as real as our “reality TV” politics make them seem.

So how do we go about detoxifying our politics? By voting, of course, and encouraging others to do so. But also by seeking out, encouraging and rewarding candidates who show more inclination to listening than demonizing, who try persuasion rather than bullying, who don’t view compromise as capitulation.

Of course the bifurcation of our politics is partly the result of our changing information ecosystem. After two decades of trashing the “mainstream media,” partisans on both sides now garner their information mainly or exclusively from online “news outlets” that deliver it with the ideological bias baked in – or worse, that don’t begin to follow the rules of basic journalism, the most basic of which is to seek out diverse sources.

And as we’ve pointed out periodically over the past 14 years, the tenor of our politics is harmed in some cases by structural changes that have been put in place to steer more power to politicians and political parties at the expense of voters: gerrymandered districts, closed primaries, complex ballot-access hurdles for candidates, cumbersome registration requirements for voters. In New York, these anti-democratic inventions have been perfected into a high art.
On pages 14-18 of this issue, we offer our regular pre-election summary of the major races on ballots around our tri-state region. It’s intended to provide an overview, a bit of background on the major contests – and also a starting point for readers to do their own research before voting.
We hope it helps, even if it falls short of a cure.


Work for the Observer!