Civil, Not War

When someone stops shouting in your ear, it can take a minute to notice.

It had been a typical work-from-home day at Chez Rochat. Which is to say, something like Fred Astaire dancing on ball bearings, each step careening into the next and none of them quite on balance. Wake up, write, get Missy out the door, write, check on Heather, write, let the dogs out, write … a lifestyle tango with an unrelenting orchestra.

And then, a beat skipped.

I missed it at first. It was only later that I added up the evidence – the ballots on the counter, the calendar on the wall, the thin pile of mail on the table – and asked the question that had been hiding in my mind.

“What happened to all my election chaos?”

You know the sort of thing I mean. Over the last few years, even a non-presidential race has become an Event, sort of like being invaded by locusts, but less productive. The junk mail that could heat a home for the winter. The robo-calls that make telemarketers a nostalgic memory by comparison. The relentless barrage of ads by the oh-so-concerned, or at least the oh-so-concerned-that-you’ll-vote-the-right-way.

This year? Sure, there’s been some calls, a few letters in the mailbox. There’s been the usual back-and-forths in the usual places, some of them pretty edged.

But it’s been … bearable. Normal, even. Like an election instead of a war.

Is this even allowed anymore?

OK, I know part of it’s that we don’t have the big money here this time around. No massive spending for national politics, or fiber-optic campaigns, or oil and gas issues. When it’s down to just a few local folks spending a few thousand dollars each – at most – it’s hard to stir the waters too badly, even if the occasional outside group parachutes in.

But I think it’s a little more. Left to ourselves, I think we’ve regained a little perspective.

Last year, at the height of the Colorado wildfires, I used this space to ask that President Obama and Mr. Romney suspend their campaigns here and give the ad money to relief efforts. I saw that column re-circulated in a lot of places, but no sign that anyone in authority ever gave the matter a moment’s thought.

This year, we followed fire with flood. And with disaster on their doorsteps, our local folks showed how to do it. Everyone called off campaigning for the next three weeks or so, even those who most needed the exposure. Digging out the home became more important than getting out the vote, and more than one candidate found a way to lend a hand.

I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna. There’s a little cynic in me still that will point out how hard it is to campaign in a flood-ravaged town, and how no candidate wants to be the one that gets labeled “the insensitive jerk.” I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some calculation, frankly.

But that’s part of my point. Even the most tactically-minded politician could look at this situation, say “campaigning is stupid” and then not do it anyway. They recognized what people wanted and did it.

Isn’t that how the system’s supposed to work?

In this case, an abundance of sense (and a shortage of cents) seems to be giving us a sane election. Not a perfect one or even a perfectly polite one – by its nature, democracy tends to be pugnacious – but one where the vote can be just one more fact of life, instead of an all-consuming monster.

I’ll take it.

So thank you, ladies and gentlemen of public life. Thank you from the bottom of my over-stressed nervous system.

And if you do feel the urge to send me some mass mail, let me know.

I can restock the fireplace any time.

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