Friday, October 29, 2004
2004 campaign: the good, the bad, and the very ugly
This time next week the election will be over — we fervently hope. On our local level, campaign 2004 has been exceptionally spirited, informative — and ugly.
On the positive side, the local chapters of the League of Women Voters and the Concord Forum should be congratulated for sponsoring a large number of debates between candidates for the legislative offices. These events provided an important opportunity to meet the incumbents and challengers and sort out the differences in their positions on important issues. Of course, these encounters "require" candidates to exaggerate the scope of their own accomplishments and point out their opponents' shortcomings, but that's the game.
We also must thank candidates for their cooperation in responding to questions posed by local newspapers, including the Mosquito. (See the centerfold.)
In other campaigning, candidates and their many supporters worked impressive numbers of hours, walking door to door and meeting the public at rallies, private functions, on street corners, at the dump. That's the essence of old-time American campaigning and it has been great to watch.
But it hasn't all been positive. For some political enthusiasts, words and handshakes are simply not enough. These folks believe that persistent, daily destruction of opponents' signs will convince the undecided to vote for their side.
Unfortunately, the 2004 campaign is ending on a harsh and ugly note. Negative campaigning has long been the sport of choice in close national and state elections. This year our local elections shed their old-fashioned decorum and picked up the flavor of big-time politics. In particular, the Massachusetts Republican Party has tried to help its local candidates by hiring an ad agency that knows how to design truly provocative political flyers and how to process photos of Democratic opponents (fuzz it out, make it darker, stretch it to widen the figure, and print it in black and white.) Aim too far below the belt and you are likely to get a backlash. While they didn't design them, it is disappointing that Republican candidates John Thibault and Doug Stevenson — otherwise respected and respectful members of their community — approved these ads to be sent to their constituents.
This time next week, our lives will be different. No more campaign activities to attend, no World Series to watch, no more daylight savings time. Campaign workers and Red Sox fans will have a lot of time on their hands. What will you do with your new-found hours? The new Civic Support Network encourages you to get involved in town government. (See page 1). And the Mosquito needs reporters.
Contrary to what I would have expected, the overwhelming majority of my e-mail exchanges are now local, within Carlisle. Last week even my next-door neighbor was added to the list.
I first started using e-mail in the early 1990s, mainly for long-distance, even international, communication. It was cheaper than phone calls and postage stamps, and eliminated worries about calling people in different time zones at the wrong time. While carrying on a long-distance relationship with my future husband from overseas, I found a way for the two of us to send messages within a shared "mailbox" on MCI Mail. Later, living in California, I used e-mail to keep in touch with friends back east.
Upon moving back to Carlisle six years ago, my personal e-mail remained long-distance for a while. Then a childhood friend, with whom I had been communicating by e-mail, also moved back to Carlisle, and thus became my first local e-mail correspondent. Within a year a Carlisle online discussion group, cityinthewoods, was created, so now I occasionally exchange e-mail with Carlisleans I don't even know.
In recent years more and more local groups and organizations have been using e-mail to correspond with their members: book groups, playgroups, youth sports teams, scouts, churches and their committees, town boards and committees, and Carlisle School teachers. The change, over a short period of time, is obvious. My daughter has the same teacher my son had two years ago. At that time she did not use e-mail to communicate with the class as a whole. This year she does.
While long-distance e-mail typically replaces traditional letter writing, local e-mail often replaces phone calling. Is that a good thing? I think so. We don't like getting busy signals and answering machines and having to remember to call again. We don't like getting calls at inconvenient times. Most significantly, if you need to contact a number of people in a group or organization for the same purpose, it is much more efficient to send a single message to all with one click of the mouse. It's especially useful for asking people to do something. An initially reluctant new class room-parent admitted that she does not like calling people from a list, and was grateful for e-mail. So, perhaps e-mail has even aided local volunteerism.
Contacting a local individual, rather than a group, though, now requires a complex decision as to which method of communication to use. Does the person tend to use e-mail to contact me? Does my question require a simple or complex answer? Do I need a response immediately, or can it wait a couple of days? Do I have a lot to say, in which case it would be more efficient to talk? Sometimes I start writing an e-mail message, and then decide to phone after all. In the end, saving time is less important than communicating appropriately.
Well, it's time to e-mail this essay to my Mosquito editor.
© 2004 The