Vermont rises above nasty tone of political discourse

09/25/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Jim Prisching
(Host) For the most part, Vermont has been able to avoid the nasty tone of political debates that's heard in many other parts of the country - at least, that's the opinion of several political observers.

They say Vermont's small size, its diverse political culture, and its focus on the needs of the most rural parts of the state, are all reasons why the debate over controversial issues is still relatively civil.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) For some people, the current national debate over health care reform really isn't a debate at all.

They see it as a political free for all that's been compared to pro wrestling, because a number of cable TV and radio talk show hosts  are constantly "outraged" about some aspect of the issue and  spend much of their time yelling at guests who don't agree with them.

Linda Fowler is a professor of Government at Dartmouth College.  Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition, Fowler said there are several reasons why Vermont has been relatively immune from this highly charged and negative political atmosphere:

(Fowler) "If you look where a lot of this activity is happening - this kind of fringe activity - it's in areas that are experiencing profound economic and social change, ften rural areas where people are feeling left out. And I think Vermont has been able to kind of embrace its rural heritage and has made a very clear statement that it's fundamental to the state's identity. So that maybe kind of mitigates the fear that's so prevalent elsewhere."

(Kinzel) Bill Grover is a political science professor at St. Michael's College. He thinks Vermont's small population helps keep the political system more accountable. 

He also believes that the state has been able to remain more civil because it has a wide spectrum of political points of view:

(Grover) "Vermont has always had a culture of mavericks - not just Bernie Sanders but going back long before Bernie Sanders. So I think that in Vermont we've had a little bit more civility and I also think we've had a little wider acceptance of alternative view points in our culture. And I think that's made us more receptive to a broader range of debate, making civility I think more likely actually because we hear ideas that are more alternative more often. So we're not as alienated by those ideas."

(Kinzel) Both Grover and Fowler say they're encouraged by the behavior of many of their college students. They say these students are far more tolerant of different points of view and don't usually tune into media programs that often demonize their opponents.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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