I was just searching the Bangor Daily News to see if anyone has taken Gov. Paul LePage up on his offer to have folks kiss his butt. It appears that no one has, but they sure have lined up to kick it.
It’s paradoxical that the governor should fetch up so badly on his own words over an invitation to a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration considering the slain civil rights leader had possibly the most civil tongue any American has ever possessed — regardless of the injustice he battled and the ghastly realities our morally bankrupt country was facing at the time.
King himself had an eloquent response to people who didn’t care for him or his civil rights movement and his perceived “special interest” supporters. King said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” At least King’s own assassination came after he saw that protection passed into federal law.
I really didn’t want to start criticizing the governor so early in his term. And last winter, when he invited me to breakfast to talk about his campaign, I was excited that he was running. I’d been a morning host for nearly a decade on radio stations broadcasting in the Augusta-Waterville area and I had seen him do some good stuff as mayor.
My exuberance waned as the campaign went on but abated completely when he said he was “about ready to punch” A.J. Higgins. I have to tell you, I love and admire A.J. And I haven’t always been on the good side of his pen — like when he blew my cover and exposed my radio personality while I was running for governor in 1998 — but he’s a great reporter and he does his job. And even if he didn’t, I’m with Dr. King on this: Violence is never the answer.
But lots of people are defending LePage’s outbursts. They say he’s a plain-speaking man from humble beginnings and it’s “refreshing.” They say he’s not a politician. I disagree. Not only is he a politician, he’s been one for a long time. And if he wants to salvage his image inside and outside of Maine, he needs to start evidencing some political savvy.
Let me put this another way. If the governor decided to represent himself in a court of law, the fact that he isn’t an attorney wouldn’t save him. He had dang well better act like one or the attorney for the other side will eat him alive.
So here’s a little Politics 101.
When someone throws you a softball, don’t foul tip it into the catcher’s mitt, hit it out of the park. That means when someone you perceive to be a political opponent invites you to the 25th celebration of their most honored leader’s national holiday, either go, send a family or staff member, or send a letter congratulating the legacy of the martyr to their cause.
Think of it like a Presidents Day sale at Marden’s. Even though there were presidents you undoubtedly disapproved of, you still managed to set those leaders aside and celebrate the day with great prices on all kinds of good stuff.
Don’t throw bravado around and then hide behind your “adopted” child of color like a shield. That’s a pretty ugly metaphor, but it’s accurate. The race of the kid you took into your home isn’t the issue; the representative of more than a million people using schoolyard bully language is. And there’s a thing called white privilege. Admit that you have it, regardless of whom you added to your family.
And before you dismiss the advantages you have as a white guy in this world, ask yourself this, “Have I ever wished I was black when I looked for a job, got pulled over by a cop, or ran the streets homeless?” Case closed.
Governor, you wasted a lot of political capital on this one. Backing up — especially to apologize for something so easily avoided — is the opposite direction from the one you should travel. I’m still hoping you can help Maine. So, get some smart advisers — ones who respect Dr. King — and start listening to them.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.