Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Editorial — Increased interest should be the new politics as usual

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming... .

Well, not quite so fast. Even though the election’s over, it’ll still be awhile before the dust settles. It will probably take weeks before the last campaign sign disappears from roadsides, yards and windows, and we’ll be seeing bumper stickers for years yet to come.

Long after the physical signs of this election are gone, supporters for various candidates will still be marked by it.

It’s been a whirlwind political year, with tightly contested presidential, state and local races. And even little ol’ Alaska, usually ignored on the national scene, has taken center stage.
Gov. Palin’s bid for the vice presidency and Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial focused a spotlight on Alaska, heating up what was already a hot election season.

Jockeying for control among Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gave Alaska’s races more weight there, too. Democrats had a better chance than ever before to unseat Stevens and Young. On a national political scope, the outcomes of those races were important to both parties.

All that translated into a nearly unprecedented level of local interest and involvement in the election season. “Who are you voting for?” has unseated even the weather as the conversation topic of choice. And with winter arriving in early October, that’s saying something.

Unfortunately, along with involvement comes animosity. There have been some ugly moments this election season. A rash of campaign sign thefts and vandalism plagued some candidates’ supporters. A Kenai business owner said he had a customer call him a communist because of the campaign propaganda displayed at the store. And sign wavers on election day were met with the usual shouts of profanity and one-finger salutes.

We’re all entitled to our opinions and to express them as we see fit. But being vulgar, rude or obstinate about it doesn’t do anyone any good. It makes the aggressor look like a jerk, and causes anyone within earshot to tune out the message.

It’s unfortunate, but unavoidable, that some election fervor will turn into fanaticism, especially in an election with so much at stake. But now that the votes are cast, it’s time to put the campaigns behind us. We need to stop being just McCain or Obama supporters, Stevens or Begich fans, Young or Berkowitz voters, and remember that we’re all Alaskans, too.

The candidates are elected. They need to do their jobs, and we need to stop fighting for or against them to do so. That doesn’t mean blindly agreeing with anything they say or do, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention. But it does mean our neighbors are still our neighbors, even if their guy or gal didn’t get your vote.

Heightened political awareness is the best thing to come out of this election, and hopefully that level of interest and attention will continue long after the campaign signs disappear. But it should be in a manner that’s reasoned and respectful to each other, and our newly elected officials.

Let’s make that the new politics as usual.

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