A picture of cooperation
Gov. Phil Scott’s post on Facebook.

A picture of cooperation

Call the photo of three ideologically distant Vermont political leaders a convenient photo op if you will — since it was — but there’s more important symbolism going on here

BRATTLEBORO — On Jan. 3, Gov. Phil Scott posted some pictures on his social media that caught my eye.

The governor was drawing attention to an effort to grow Vermont's health care workforce, a worthy goal indeed in these stressful and frightening times. But it was the images themselves that struck me, as a reflection of something we see far too seldom in politics, even here in Vermont.

The scene was our windy Statehouse steps, where the three politicians standing in the cold were our independent U.S. senator, Bernie Sanders; Windham County's own Democratic Senate President Pro Tem, Becca Balint; and Scott, a Republican.

All three looked pleased to be standing side by side, despite the frigid scene surrounding them, and they looked happy to be working together to promote a commonly recognized need in Vermont.

Call it a convenient photo op if you will, since it was. The governor was anxious to highlight part of his budget that will play well across the political spectrum. Sen. Sanders is always one to jump in with those whose efforts will be seen as supporting essential workers, and Sen. Balint is running for a House seat in Washington.

But there's more important symbolism going on here when you take a moment to reflect.

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We have gotten to a point in our country where pictures like these, of three elected public servants from vastly differing beliefs and backgrounds, don't take pictures together.

Sure, it still happens here in our brave little state, where discourse is happily still a thing at the local level, but increasingly I've noticed those difficult conversations in Vermont being avoided in favor of easily digestible bullet points and simplified position statements.

It's easy to think that our state is immune to national-level polarized rhetoric and animosity, but I've been noticing even our proud history of respectful political dialogue being chipped away by the same extreme language, from both the right and from the left.

This digital dogma has definitely increased in our current national climate of pandemic frustrations, a polarization brushfire that is given more fuel by our reliance on social media for connection.

* * *

During these turbulent times, we need our leaders to step up efforts to reject the appeal of what I will call “announcing and denouncing” - crafting press releases and social media posts with the primary intent of winning likes and shares. Instead, we should hold those with elected power to the task of doing their jobs: describing the problem, proposing solutions, and working toward policy fixes.

I'd love to see our elected Vermonters spend a little less time on the easier task of stoking outrage among their base supporters and more time reaching across divides to make progress on policies that will truly benefit all of their constituents.

Let's face it: Crafting a social media post that rages against the dysfunction in Washington is hitting the “easy button.” The work of actually sitting down with someone who disagrees with your position is the real work that needs to happen here to make progress and craft good policy.

In 2022, I hope to see more of these cheerful pictures of our elected leaders from different political perspectives, working together to represent their constituents and getting down to the business of serving us all.

That is, in fact, the job of elected representatives.

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