This week we can’t help but note the difference between the spectacle in Washington that surrounded the passage of President Obama’s health-care bill and the nuts and bolts debate of the half-dozen town meetings that took place around Waldo County — starting with how everyone behaved.

Even wind turbines, a topic that has generated more bluster around Waldo County than any other in our recent memory, has yet to cause anyone to declare the coming of Armageddon. Similarly, we witnessed no high-fives, no catcalls, no swearing. On the floor of the House of Representatives we half expected to see the ghost of Rep. Preston Brooks walk into the chambers and beat the ghost of Sen. Charles Sumner with his gold-topped cane, to such a degree had the congressmen of 2010 apparently run out of rhetorical headroom.

While there is no doubt that town meetings can sometimes get heated, the sheer reality of the matters at hand seems to keep things from getting totally out of control. Where national politics can live and die in ideological abstractions, leaving us scratching our heads as to what will eventually come down the pike, town politics are clear and direct. If the townspeople vote to set aside $1,000 to straighten gravestones, you can bet that some gravestones will be straightened to the tune of $1,000 and if they aren’t, that money will fall back into the town’s general fund.

Given how much say we get at our town meetings, it’s surprising how few residents attend these once-a-year events. The largest turnout this week was in Jackson, where close to 30 percent of the population of the town came to the town meeting — a figure that’s genuinely impressive. In Thorndike the 100 attendees accounted for just under 13 percent of residents in that town, and attendance in both Brooks and Morrill was well under 10 percent — hardly a ringing endorsement of what is regularly hailed as “the purest form of democracy.” In Morrill, half of the 55 people who came to the town meeting left after lunch.

At the beginning of the Burnham town meeting, Assistant Fire Chief Charles King made a note of the abysmal attendance. “Fifteen out of a thousand,” he said. “Oh well.” For those keeping score, that’s around 2 percent. Factoring out children and summer residents, those figures improve a bit, but still nothing to write away about.

With clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s heralding the first day of spring, last Saturday was a really nice day. And while we can’t fault anyone for wanting to cruise the rare March yard sale, skipping the town meeting means missing your chance to have a direct say on how your tax money is spent. Articles at several town meetings this week were decided on one or two votes. And, unlike the federal health-care bill, most articles on the warrant at town meeting go into effect this year.