Too much of our political debate in New Hampshire, as well as in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, has become a race to the bottom. An exchange of insults and slanders more appropriate to reality television than a legislature. 

“Thugs.” “Neanderthals.” “Hitler.” “Pimp.” – These are all names that one side or the other has recently used against its critics.

It has to stop. 

Let’s think about where we are for a moment. Unemployment has fallen as the economy has added thousands of new jobs since the Recovery Act but remains at a still painful 8.8 percent. While New Hampshire’s numbers are better than the national average, there are still too many people who want to work who can’t find a job. Our long-term deficit has risen to a level that must be addressed. Our military is engaged around the world. 

This is not a time to be frivolous, or to score points. This is a time for serious leadership, to tackle real problems. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. In my three terms as governor, I worked routinely with the Republican majority in the legislature to pass budgets and conduct essential business of the state. I disagreed with them on many occasions, and they disagreed with me. Judd Gregg and I also had many disagreements about policy, but worked together routinely and cordially when I served as governor and he was in the Senate, and then again when we served together in the United States Senate. I expect to enjoy the same relationship with his Republican successor, Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years MORE

A functioning democracy requires robust debate about such disagreements. But these debates do not need to stoop to name calling. 

We need to express our commitment as lawmakers to the ideas that are at the root of our democracy, which is a model for the world: Our disagreements may make us opponents, but they should not make us enemies. Our debates may be spirited, but they should not be spiteful. And while campaigns may call for us to highlight our differences, governing calls for us to work together.

I know we can honor those ideals. Our politics are as resilient as our people, who have risen to the challenges of the last several years and have begun to turn our economy around. 

Now is the time to meet their optimism and hard work with the seriousness of purpose it deserves. It is time for the tone and tenor of our public discourse to meet the test of history.