Is “better than the alternative” the best we can do?

The sleeping giant that is Congress is stirring. While not quite leaping out of bed to do calisthenics in front of a window, Congress is at least yawning and stretching. And the crowd goes wild! They might pass a bill!

A massive proposal addressing climate change and environmental issues looked like it would follow the well-worn path into the abyss, but as it teetered on the brink, the magic that is Washington did its thing and lo, an agreement was made.

Never mind that our forests are ablaze, our streets are melting, our power supply can’t keep up with demand. Never mind the abundant proof that climate change is real, is happening now, and is killing us. Congress maintains its measured pace, pondering district by district whether this climate apocalypse will hurt or help industry, small businesses or the psyche of Bloomington, Barstow or Bangor.

Legislation in a country as huge and diverse as the U.S. is never easy. What is the impact on small towns? Big cities? Multi-generational citizens versus newly minted ones? Kids? Grandmas? Lobstermen? The chronically ill? The homeless or jobless? The entrepreneurs and job creators? But people, there are things that need to get done.

It is getting harder for “climate deniers” to hang onto their conviction that this is all a hoax. If it’s a hoax, it’s a very hot one. Writer Jon Mooallem, in an essay about the Paradise, Calif., wildfire, puts it this way: “Paradise had prepared for disasters. But it had prepared merely for disasters, and this was something else.” The natural world, he said, was “outpacing our capacity to prepare for, or even conceive of, the magnitude of disaster that such a disordered Earth can produce.” Mooallem’s grim conclusion: “Nature is increasingly finding a foothold in the unimaginable: what’s not just unprecedented but hopelessly far beyond what we’ve seen.”

A single individual was the fulcrum of the debate over the climate bill, one U.S. senator who hemmed and hawed and horse-traded his way to deciding whether he could possibly bring himself to vote for the one bill that gives us the faint, desperate hope of possibly staving off some of the apocalyptic impacts of climate change. Tough decision, but finally — Joey likes it!

Now the bill is poised for votes, unless of course another U.S. senator decides she or he has not had the chance to think about this enough and becomes a contender for Obstacle of the Day. Fingers crossed! Should it squeak by in the Senate, the measure is expected to pass the House although our own congressman, Jared Golden, was the sole House Democrat to vote against an earlier version of the bill last fall.

Congressman Golden also voted “no” on a gun control measure considered by the House in June. “Now is not the time for bills we all know will fail” was his rationale. A Republican congressman from Georgia declared: “An armed America is a safe and free America.” Well, “safe and free” if you don’t plan to send your children to school, shop at a mall or attend church, a concert or a sporting event. Those are not safe, therefore not free.

Yet “I don’t support any version of that” was Congressman Golden’s comment as he voted against a ban on the public purchase of guns whose only purpose is to kill human beings as quickly as possible, and in the greatest numbers. He prefers other measures. Despite Golden’s opposition, the proposal passed the House, but the WGDB (World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, aka the U.S. Senate) will surely kill it.

What does a Democrat such as Golden “have to do” in a reddish district such as Maine’s 2nd CD to win election? If the seat is contested by a Republican who does not favor gun control and a Democrat who doesn’t either, because he can’t and still get elected, how do the majority of us, who favor some limited version of gun safety measures, get representation? (Yes, “majority.” A Reuters poll found that 53 percent of Republicans and two-thirds of the population as a whole favor restrictions on gun ownership.)

The alternative? Forget the calculus of what a candidate “has to do” and put up a candidate who will work to alleviate the carnage ravaging our country and no other. Guns for hunting, self-protection and sport shooting? OK. But there is simply no rationale for the sale of military-grade weapons on an open market. Should he win re-election, Jared Golden will be a two-term incumbent who will get the backing of the Democratic Party at both state and federal levels, making it well-nigh impossible to unseat him in a primary. He becomes an entrenched, “better than the alternative” candidate but not the candidate we had hoped for.


Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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