The New Hat Doesn’t Fit:
Paul LePage’s Silly Season

“Can you give me an example of incongruity?” asks the cat.

The political “mean season” is the subject of Paul LePage’s recent radio address.  In the address, LePage presents himself as a history buff, as a philosophical, moderate, book-reading statesman who is somehow above the political fray.

He fails to mention, of course, that his notable absence from stated fray may not be of his own choosing.  And, if it is of his own choosing, it reminds us of something else — that he doesn’t particularly like having to bother with politics and probably wishes he could run the state the way he used to run Mardens.

LePage talks about the mean season.  But, as regards to his radio address, silly season is more like it — so silly is what LePage asks us to believe.
Mean season: n., the weeks leading up to an election during which negative campaign tactics are often employed.
Silly season: n., a period of time, usually in the summer months, typified by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media.
Mitt Romney’s “conversion” to a peace-talking moderate is incongruous enough.  Are we now expected to forget the LePage that told Obama to go to hell, that labelled his own citizens idiots, that told the NAACP to kiss his ass?  Are we to forget how he harangued and belittled those who have stood in his way, how the Republican strategy of switching up bills and rushing votes in committee meetings made a mockery of the 2012 legislative session?  Are we supposed to forget that LePage has sold out on the entire state of Maine by circumventing the democratic process and letting corporate lobbyists write legislation on health insurance, the environment, and online learning?

In his address, LePage decries a negative ad against Republican candidate Kevin Raye — an ad that the Portland Press Herald agrees is false.  However, as the Kennebec Journal documents, the Raye campaign has also veered from the truth — and this goes unmentioned by LePage.

LePage concludes his address by claiming that, despite political differences, there are greater things that unite us.  “We must never forget, before we are Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans. “

We think that he should direct his message, not to the people of Maine, but to those in his party who time and time again have stood with the American Legislative Exchange Council — and not with the 47 percent.  We think he should direct his message to those in his party who, on  the day President Obama took office, took on the political mission of making is  presidency fail — even if it meant that America would fail as well.

“We must learn to debate the issues with civility and integrity. “ states LePage.  Is this a call to resolve or a note of surrender?  Either way, LePage may have to do some learning, as he may find himself rubbing shoulders with a lot more Democrats after November 6.

Against Their Own Interest:
Why the Rural Poor
Vote Republican

Romney campain sign.

The $250 million man, Mitt Romney, apparently has friends in trailer parks. Once the election has past, will these folks be even a blip on his radar screen?

A recent poll has Romney with a 5 point lead over Obama in Maine’s 2nd District, which encompasses the poorer, less educated, more rural, northern parts of the state.

A CNN poll showed that nationally, in the last midterm election, 41% of those earning below $30,000 voted Republican.

In 2012, the rural vote seems to be trending  strongly toward the Republicans on a nationwide basis.  One recent nonpartisan poll  shows Romney leading Obama 59 percent to 37 percent  among rural voters in battleground states.

How can this be?

How is it that so many of the rural poor cast their votes for Republican candidates who differentiate themselves from their Democratic rivals primarily by their promises to shrink the social safety net and reduce taxes on the rich?

Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? takes on this question, and  returns the answer that conservatives have co-opted the votes of the poor largely by focusing campaigns on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

Conservatives have been very successful at propagating the words that the media and ultimately the public use to talk about issues.  Being a beneficiary of government programs is “dependency.”  Taxes are “job-killers.”  The wealthy are “job creators.”  Any step toward government intervention is “socialism.”  The word “government” itself has been assigned a negative connotation.  The previously accepted citizen duty to pay taxes is an imposition on ones “personal freedom.”  The repetition of these terms, especially in the conservative media, undoubtedly influences how people think — and, unfortunately, the less educated the person, the more compelling the language.

A  factor contributing to the present “unpopularity” of government social programs is a lack of understanding of what those programs are.  According to a New York Times article, “Many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. According to the article, 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

The irony, of course, is that many who state they are opposed to government programs are actually beneficiaries of government support — they just don’t think of it that way.

This is overstatement, of course, but it also contains some truth. The question is, “Why do so many of the poor and working poor vote against their own economic best interest?”

Another factor that helps conservative candidates  attract less educated voters is that their ideology tends to fall on the less nuanced, more straightforward, more gut-response side of issues.  “Protect the unborn!”  “Eliminate the death tax!”  “Defend Israel no matter what.” “Welfare creates dependency.”    “Illegal aliens should self-deport.”  On some levels, it is difficult to present arguments against this kind of thinking.

Rural people in general and rural Mainers in particular tend to be independent-minded and skeptical of government.  The bigger and more distant the government, the higher the degree of skepticism.  This plays well into support for conservatives due to the Republican mantra of “smaller government.”

It is also important to acknowledge the role that the church plays in shoring up the rural conservative vote.  Especially for people with few social outlets, the church and the worldview offered within its walls can play a compelling role.  Adding to this, the rural poor attend church at a higher rate than other groups. A 2008 study found  church attendance in poor rural communities to be nearly double that in wealthier, more urban communities.  Not all rural churches are conservative-leaning, of course, but — for whatever reason — it seems the vast majority of them are.

It’s disheartening to think of so many of America’s downtrodden voting for candidates whose plan for the poor consists of (1) trickle down; and (2) admonitions to get up off the couch.  Unfortunately, there may not be much Democrats can do to change this between now and November 6 — so we just have to hope that the poor are smarter than  conservatives think.

Taxes are Job-Killers & Other Untruths: LePage Lays Down a Few Big Ones in Radio Address

Old paradigm —
Two unavoidable things:
Death + Taxes.
New Conservative paradigm —
Death = Taxes.

“Taxes are a job-killer,” states Paul LePage in his recent radio address.

So oversimplified,so extreme, so essentially untrue is his statement, he might as well have said that milk is bad for babies or rain is bad for crops.

It is also a sign of our times that a governor pronouncing such a statement would not be laughed right out of office.

Lost somewhere is the recognition that without taxes we would have no roads, no schools, no public utilities, no law enforcement,  no postal service, no internet, no systems of education, transportation, communication. . . and very few corporations and very few jobs.  If taxes are a job killer, the lack of taxes is the biggest job killer of all..

If what LePage implied were true, if tax rates were all that mattered, businesses would be flocking to places like Uzbekistan (corporate tax rate of 9 percent) and Somalia (less than 20 percent).

A governor registering a smidgen higher on the honest-and-articulate scale might have said something more like this:   “While taxes support the government programs, services, and infrastructure that help create and maintain a positive climate for business, an excess of taxes can also detract from that climate.  Maintaining a balance between business revenues and taxes, between the size of the public sector and the size of the private sector is therefore necessary.”

The governor, of course, has never been accused of speaking in subtleties.

As part of the same address, LePage brags about Maine’s improved Tax Foundation ranking and about positive grades for fiscal policy from the Cato Institute.  As if the effectiveness of a governor can be measured by his fiscal policy alone — rather than on the overall well-being of a state and its people.  As if these numbers can make up for the fact that Maine’s unemployment rate has ticked upward every month since January of this year..  Or as if those numbers can make up for the fact that his approval ratings earn him a place among the least popular governors in the country.

In his address, LePage also touts the fact that  a Maine family with a income of $50,000 per year is now paying $300 per year less in taxes.  $300 per year amounts to less than $6.00 per week.  $6.00 per week!  So let’s get this straight.  Maine gutted everything from Head Start to state employee pensions so the family earning $50,000 per year can pay a dollar a day less in taxes?  It is doubtful those families will even notice.  Families with children in Head Start and retirees on fixed incomes certainly will notice, however.

One can only conclude that it isn’t about the $6.00 per week.  One can only conclude that the tax reductions are so hugely important to Paul LePage because they then help justify cutting the social programs he so badly wanted to cut.  One can only conclude that the tax reductions were so hugely important to Paul LePage because of their symbolic value — and that the corporate forces aligned at ALEC and elsewhere can see the LePage tax cut as a small but incremental victory in the nation-wide war to “drown government in a bathtub.”

Is the irony lost on LePage, that his own job as well as the one he gave to his daughter, as well as the jobs of thousands of teachers and policemen, road crews and state office workers exist only because of a thing called taxes?

Taking the irony even further, LePage quotes from Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” attempting to use the quote to somehow lend support to his ideas, when — in fact — the quote advocates for an unselfishness and a generosity  of spirit that is exactly the opposite of what LePage is about.

Paul LePage Drops Out: National Governor’s Association Not Worth His Time

Like a dog in a library . . .

Paul LePage recently announced that he is withdrawing Maine from membership in the National Governor’s Association.  According to LePage, he is doing so because the $0.04-per-Maine-citizen cost is excessive, considering that he isn’t “getting anything out of it.”

As we know from the mural reversal and other issues, LePage is not always forthcoming about his motivations.   Therefore, we should take his stated reason for pulling out of the National Governor’s Association with a grain of salt.

Since we can’t take LePage’s word for it, we can only speculate.  The real reason for LePage’s action is almost certainly one of the following:

(1) It just might be true, as LePage has stated, that there is little value to be gained from spending time with the top governorial minds in America.  However, to the uninitiated at least,  the organization seems to offer some value. The mission of the NGA, as stated on their website, reads “. . .  the bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors—promotes visionary state leadership, shares best practices and speaks with a collective voice on national policy.”    Current areas of focus include providing job opportunities for the disabled, developing policy for funding pensions, and reducing expenditures for inmate healthcare.  Sounds to us like practical stuff — and that the $60,000 could potentially be recouped in a hurry.  But then, on the other hand, LePage seems to get plenty of advice from the American Legislative Exchange Council for free.

(2) It may be that the NGA meetings actually offer a great deal of value but that LePage, like a dog in a library, is not able to access that value.  For a man whose talent in political discourse often is limited to three word sentences such as, “Kiss my butt,” participating in more sophisticated discourse may be a stretch.  When a student drops of out college, it generally tells us more about the student than about the college, and that probably is true in this case.

(3) It could likely be that LePage, with his “looked-down-upon Maine education” simply feels out of his league.  Being around dozens of brighter minds undoubtedly makes him feel inferior.  Besides some of the words other governors use likely have more than six letters in them, and they don’t all lace their conversation with profanity or tell old jokes about nuns.

(4) It may be that LePage hopes that dropping out out of a national bi-partisan organization during campaign season sends a political message and heightens his cred as a tough guy who is minding the bottom line.  (No matter that that the state owes millions for medicaid overpayments).  What we would say to that is that true courage involves sitting down with your political enemies and opening your mind to ideas that do not conform to your worldview.  LePage, however, has never shown any interest in doing this.

On the government level, there has been little flap about the governor’s decision.  Even Emily Cain, perhaps eager for an opportunity to support SOMETHING the governor does, seemed to approve of the decision.  However, a closer look at her remarks shows that her fingers are not necessarily being pointed at the NGA.  “You should always be asking, ‘Am I getting something out of this that benefits the people of Maine and the state of Maine?’” she said.  The subtext of her response seems to be that if LePage isn’t getting anything out of the meetings — and if he is going to skip out early as he did last year — there is really no point to sending him.