By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
In a couple of days it will be over.
The landline phone will stop ringing every half hour, the canvassers will stop knocking, the town halls will be empty, no downtown walks, the despicable ads lying and demonizing candidates will disappear for a while, and the reputations of many candidates will never recover.
Welcome to yet another election for the soul of America. These elections are much more frequent than they used to be, but the intensity only grows.
If you are old enough, you remember six decades ago the United States fought for the “hearts and minds” of Vietnamese people, but today the war for our “hearts and minds” is fought in town halls, on college campuses, in television studios, on social media, on the streets of your town and in many cases in your living rooms.
As the old anti-war song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson says “when will you ever learn, when will you ever learn.”
The political landscape has changed from the time that song was popular.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates to billions of dollars of new money into campaigns with its Citizens United decision and allowed the funders to hide behind Political Action Committees without revealing their identities if they are set up as “education vehicles.” They can do as much damage as a standard political PAC and even more because the perpetrators are not accountable when there is no transparency.
And today again America is standing at a fork in the road with the perception Tuesday’s results will set the country’s direction. It was the same perception two years ago, and two years before that and two years before that.
To describe the directions is a mine field as any description of one side or the other is fraught with peril and charges of bias.
But it is safe to say one outcome would move the country in the same direction it has essentially been traveling since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, while the other side would prefer to go back before that point, although what they want to recreate never was.
The words socialist, communist, fascist, racist, misogynist, misanthrope, theocracy and authoritarian, along with groomer, transgender, violent militia and illegal immigration are frequent references in today’s campaigns. One word that should be frequently used, but isn’t is oligarchy.
Is it any wonder the country is divided as sharply as it appears to be.
There is a difference between governing and power, but most people do not make the distinction.
Power involves rewarding the people who put you there, implementing unpopular methods to achieve your goals and stacking the government for years to come with people who support your political and religious philosophy.
Governing is implementing policies that seek to make a change for disadvantaged people and working to improve the lives of all Americans.
Governing requires compromise, which is why it is so hard to accomplish in these times of hyper partisanship.
If your only concern is power, you will do anything to ensure you have it even if it is dishonest, unethical or even criminal.
Power seekers have little use for those who disagree with them nor have qualms about needlessly destroying someone’s life or reputation in the process of achieving their goals.
Governing, on the other hand, requires empathy and compassion, something in short order today when you are either one of the tribe or the enemy.
When the majority power swings back and forth as much as it does in Concord or in Washington, it is hard to compromise and also very difficult to accomplish much of anything when it will be destroyed after the next election cycle.
Three decades ago, Republicans developed a plan to tilt the scales in their favor on the national level.
Very shrewdly they realized the way to majorities on the national level was to first win at the state level.
Once it turned many routinely Democratic legislatures to Republican control, they focused on the elections that would give them control as the political boundaries of the states were drawn, which happens every 10 years to align with US Census population data collected once every decade.
Once the Republican majorities were drawing the political boundaries of both state and federal districts, the gerrymandering gave them more seats in the US House and in state legislatures although Democrats often outnumbered Republicans.
And this election Republicans upped the ante with the US House on the line.
Here in New Hampshire with Republicans in control, they further gerrymandered districts that were gerrymandered 10 and 20 years ago, to give them absolute control of the state senate and Executive Council. The House will be difficult for Democrats to control, but it could flip for an election or two in the next 10 years.
On the federal level, the changes allowed Republicans to control Congress while Democrats controlled the presidency for 18 of the last 30 years.
At the same time districts were gerrymandered to favor Republicans, Republican legislators began chipping away at voting rights and together have given themselves a major advantage that requires a blue wave to take control of the US House or US Senate, or a Republican controlled state legislature.
The latest voter registration figures in New Hampshire show how well gerrymandering works.
As of Thursday, the state has 883,035 registered voters: 278,681 Democrats; 276,034 Republicans, and 328,320 undeclared voters.
Secretary of State David Scanlan predicts 591,000 residents will vote on Tuesday, which would be a record for a midterm election surpassing the previous record set in 2018 when 580,214 votes were cast and Democrats took control of all but the governor’s office.
New Hampshire does not have early voting or expansive absentee voting laws as many states do. Some of those states are seeing voter intimidation as armed people hover near drop boxes and law enforcement warns there may be violence on voting day.
What a sad state of affairs when people cannot exercise their fundamental right to vote, without someone trying to intimidate or threaten someone.
But that is where our divided country is today as people begin an essential component of our democracy, voting.
Another example of the country’s political problems is the reaction of many Republicans to the assassination attempt on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that left her 82-year-old husband with a fractured skull and a long recovery period ahead.
Some GOP politicians treated the attack as a joke and others espoused demeaning conspiracy theories.
It was reminiscent of another dark time in America’s history when Republican Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy shredded people’s lives and reputations by accusing them — without evidence — of being communists.
The country needs another person like lawyer Joseph Nye Welch who confronted McCarthy on television in 1954.
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The question is as relevant today as it was nearly seven decades ago.
Vote like your country depends on it because it does.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.