We are at a critical turning point in Vermont. We must confront who we are, who we want to be and what we believe in. As the nation at large becomes more politically polarized, our choices there at least become clearer.
In Vermont, we’ve historically maintained an open-minded political center and a large percentage of independent voters. so the electoral choices demand greater self-inquiry and candidate-inquiry. Remember 1984, when we elected Ronald Reagan, Madeleine Kunin, and Bernie Sanders?
If we ignore all the arrogant and self-serving claims about “what the founding fathers really meant,” the “with God on our side” blowhards, and those for whom ongoing scientific discovery disrupts their personal belief systems; if we turn off the media gossip and attack ads, and face the difficult but valuable task of confronting our own value system and listening to what it tells us, we will have done our jobs as citizens of a democracy.
Most of our political choices lie somewhere between self-interest and community. They take form in our personal beliefs about whether the organizing principles of society – that is the rule of law, taxation, and government’s role in the regulation of society, the economy and the environment – are, in fact, beneficial or just a necessary evil.
Yes, of course, we must listen to the candidates, or sadly, their campaign handlers, but we must also listen to our own conscience and measure what we hear inside ourselves against what we hear from those who would lead us. We must continually press them on what underlies their simplistic promises of lower taxes, furloughed prisoners, business deregulation, single-payer healthcare, the future of VT Yankee, or job creation. These have no substance without an implementation strategy and an analysis of intended and unintended consequences, yet our desire to believe them is so strong that we often just vote on the headlines. The downside of democracy is that we, the voters, have only ourselves to blame for bad leadership choices.
In the voting booth, we must ask ourselves where the balance between self-interest and community lies and who can best help us get there? Do we have enough confidence in their integrity, their leadership experience and their vision to hand them the reins of government? Are we hearing their own plan or are they merely carrying someone else’s water?
Vermont has options. We’ve always been a conservative state, not in the Christine O’Donnell or Glenn Beck sense of conservatism, but rather in the Yankee tradition of conservatism that values community, believes in a social safety net, a vigorous business climate and a clean environment, but does not overreach financially, a conservatism that respects individual liberty and embraces community — Freedom and Unity.
Our problems are far less than those of many other states, precisely because of our traditional conservatism. We can fine tune our economy and enhance our communities and working landscape if we choose leaders who welcome new ideas, are stimulated by diverse opinions and maintain open minds.
And whatever we do we do, we will own our leadership choices for years to come.