In an attempt to ease the state’s severe cognitive-dissonance shortage, the arbiters of good taste have spent this election season beseeching candidates to practice both civility and sincerity.
As any sensible person involved in politics knows, those qualities can’t coexist. It’s impossible to be considered honest if you’re caught pretending to be pleasant to your opponent, while simultaneously running TV spots claiming he’s a child molester. And it’s ridiculous to feign cordiality if he really is.
Nevertheless, in the alternative universe where the promoters of etiquette and integrity live, our leaders “value honesty, truth, and civility while striving to find workable solutions.”
That’s a quote from the Maine Council of Church’s “Covenant for Civil Discourse,” a document that dozens of candidates sign every election year, pledging to take the high road in their campaigns. Among this year’s signatories are gubernatorial candidates Eliot Cutler, an independent, and Mike Michaud, a Democrat, as well as Democrat Shenna Bellows, who’s running for the US Senate.
Cutler has spent most of the campaign displaying his innate arrogance, aloofness, and condescension. He never wastes an opportunity to remind voters he’s the smartest guy in the room. He seems to have forgotten this quote from the book he published last year: “Words can inspire and heal, or they can hurt and inflame. We should never excuse repeated and intentional distortions of the facts, bullying behavior and slanderous remarks about good people.”
Michaud comes off as a likeable fellow, but he’s repeatedly claimed the big tax cut pushed through by Republican Governor Paul LePage in 2011 was approved “outside the budget cycle,” which isn’t true. He’s also had to backtrack on claims that under LePage, Maine lost jobs. These exercises in truthiness didn’t deter the nonpartisan group No Labels from giving Michaud its “Problem Solver Seal of Approval.” No Labels’ Maine steering committee explained its criteria for that award in a ditzy 2012 op-ed:
“We feel that by supporting leaders and legislation dedicated to civility and compromise rather than partisan politics, we can arrive at common-sense solutions to our national challenges. We know that our government is capable of doing so via civil and pro-active discourse.”
Is the alarm that’s ringing the irony warning or the cluelessness alert?
LePage didn’t sign the pledge to be courteous and truthful, so it’s no surprise he’s been neither. Instead, he’s displayed a preference for making impolitic, impolite, and inaccurate statements whenever he thinks no one will challenge his claims. His excuse for getting it wrong is he’s “not the best and most polished politician,” which is sort of like Toyota excusing its automobile recalls by claiming not to be the best and most polished car company.
Bellows hasn’t hesitated to criticize GOP US Senator Susan Collins—even when a little hesitation would have been beneficial. In May, Bellows put out a press release blasting Collins for voting to continue a filibuster against a bill increasing veterans’ benefits. Except there was no vote. The Senate was in recess. Similar mistakes have plagued Bellows’ campaign all fall.
Collins has a huge lead in the polls, thereby allowing her to the luxury of forgoing the nastiness and lies that have characterized some of her previous campaigns. Only a fool slings mud when there’s no reason to get dirty.