And so, the excitement of the fall political campaigns begins.
Although, “excitement” might not be the right word to characterize events more precisely described as turgid with occasional interludes of venomous, petty and inaccurate.
Sort of like golf – without the fresh air.
Oh wait, I forgot self-serving.
Still sounds like golf.
If my enhanced description of the run-up to the November election (admittedly, made up for the sole purpose of sucking you into reading this column) strays from the truth, I’m hardly alone in this abuse of the English language. A comparison with the rhetoric surrounding the average gubernatorial campaign leaves my modest meandering away from the realm of the factual looking like holy writ engraved on tablets.
Let’s start with the latest TV ad from the Republican Governors Association in support of Gov. Paul LePage. The 60-second spot finishes with a flourish by claiming, “He’s unique, like Maine.”
According to my dictionary, “unique” means “existing as the only one; single; solitary in type or characteristics.” The word is frequently misused by boneheads who mean “unusual,” which LePage certainly is (unusual, not a bonehead). But his agenda is almost entirely derived from national conservative groups, who’ve drafted similar measures in many states. His speaking style, described in the ad as “Blunt, honest,” is comparable to comments one hears in bars toward the end of happy hour.
There’s also the matter of his being unique “like Maine.” If the governor and the state are alike in their uniqueness, then by definition neither is unique. And if the copywriters meant that LePage and Maine are unique in different ways, that wouldn’t necessarily indicate they’re good matches for each other. Michelangelo’s Pieta and North Korean architecture are both unique, but nobody has ever suggested putting one anywhere near the other.
The nonsense about Maine being unique isn’t unique to LePage’s supporters. This pandering to our sense of ourselves as special is a staple of political blather. Democrat Mike (Lots Of People Mistake Me For Libby Mitchell) Michaud has buckets of it in a video posted on his campaign website.
“Mainers are very hard-working,” Michaud claims, “very friendly, they care about their neighbors. Whether it’s a farmer in Aroostook County, a lobsterman on the coast, someone who’s punching a time clock in the mill, they’re willing to step up to the plate to help someone in need.”
Unless those folks are immigrants; welfare recipients; or members of racial, sexual or religious minorities – in which cases Mainers are as likely as Nebraskans, Californians or Mississippians to tell those seeking alms to pound sand. We like being flattered about how morally superior we are, but when the real world intrudes, we rarely measure up to these delusions.
Independent Eliot Cutler is no less likely than LePage and Michaud to engage in the practice of over-inflating our importance. On Cutler’s website, he states, “The latent power of the Maine brand is extraordinary; there are a few states that are mythic, and Maine is one of them.”
Others include Atlantis, Brigadoon and Hell. Maine has more in common with some of those than others.
Strangely, this predilection for brown-nosing is less prevalent among candidates for federal offices. Some, such as Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidate Emily Cain, rarely resort to kissing voters’ posteriors. Others, such as GOP 2nd District nominee Bruce Poliquin, 1st District Republican hopeful Isaac Misiuk and Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, can be seen as either refreshingly realistic or downright negative.
“Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is stuck in high unemployment and too many part-time jobs,” said Poliquin on his website. “An increasing number of our young families, many burdened with college debt, leave for better opportunities elsewhere. Those who remain are increasingly dependent on government programs to get by.”
According to his website, Misiuk “understands the crippling student debt and limited job prospects are hurting the American dream, which we are told to strive for as children.”
“A lack of Internet and cell phone access impedes economic growth in our rural communities,” Bellows complains on her site. “Small businesses comprise 60% of Maine’s jobs, but too often, it is difficult or impossible for small business owners to access the capital they need to start up.”
Poliquin and Misiuk accuse Democrats in Congress and the White House of being responsible for this mess, while Bellows puts it on the entrenched incumbent she’s opposing. So their less-than-rosy assessments are really a reverse form of humoring their potential constituents by pretending that whatever’s wrong with Maine isn’t the fault of the swell people who live here.
It’s sort of like a golfer blaming the ball.
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