The tone of the 2012 election scene has hit a new low throughout much of the United States.
Maybe that has to do with the introduction of so much negative television commercials because of the Citizens United decision.
Maybe it has been prompted by the number of divisive issues facing voters this year.
Or perhaps it is just a growing incivility and the growing belief that if you disagree with someone, the other person must be evil.
It isn’t the first time that the political discourse has taken a turn for the worse. In the 1960s, people opposing the war in Vietnam were labeled pinko, hippie commies, while those who supported the war were neo-fascist baby-killers. We lived through that period, but it wasn’t pleasant.
Some of that nastiness showed its face at a debate between the U.S. Senate candidates that I and some other Havre Daily News staffers attended at the Montana Newspaper Association convention in Big Sky earlier this year.
While the discussion between the candidates was tense, the mood in the audience was downright hostile. Supporters of both candidates brought in supporters from throughout southern Montana to cheer. They carried signs with blistering attacks on the other candidates. Apparently after the debate, Mrs. Rehberg was attacked by renegade Democrats.
Compare that to the mood at last week’s Havre Daily News forum for local candidates.
The issues discussed were highly visceral. Divisive topics such as gay rights, abortion and taxes were on the agenda. But the tone was civil. Candidates answered the questions in a low-key tone, carefully explaining their views. The audience listened attentively. I’m sure that half the crowd was repulsed by half of the answers, but there were no catcalls or booing.
Consider when moderator John Ita asked the candidates to say something nice about their opponents.
There was no guffawing, no embarrassing delays while candidates strained their minds, no laughing.
Every candidate offered praise for their opponents — the same opponents who had moments ago with comments that must have churned many stomachs.
Is this because the Hi-Line is more civil, more decent than the rest of the country? Well, yes. In many other parts of the country, a debate between candidates with views as divergent as those expressed by, for example, Karen Sloan and Wendy Warburton would have turned nasty. At the forum, there was no mention of baby-killers or coat hangers used to perform abortions.
Hi-Liners love discussing, even arguing politics. Sometimes politicians seem to be disappointed if they agree with their political rivals.
But as one candidate said Thursday night, on Nov, 7, we will all still be living in this special small town. We’ll eat in the same restaurants, go to the same events, live in the same neighborhoods and attend the same churches. The sense of community on the Hi-Line is more important than scoring points on a debate scorecard or winning applause from the crowd.
Not one candidate Thursday night gave any hint that they were involved in this trying process to settle scores or to gain financially.
The area is blessed with a variety of opinions on major issues. To those who care passionately about the issues facing the 2013 Montana Legislature or how the Hill County Commission will perform, the election results will be monumental.
But it’s good to know that no matter who gets more votes on Nov. 6, Havre and the Hi-Line will be presented by quality, caring people who want what is best for our community.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (406) 265-6795, ext. 17, or (406) 390-0798.)