Three questions, but only one’s got an easy answer

School is back in session, so here are three relevant questions for discussion in today’s social studies, civics, current events, and/or ethics classes.

The first is: “Should public servants be held to a higher standard?”

In an ideal world elected officials would exemplify integrity, fairness, empathy, and energy in everything they do, but current (and aspiring) office holders step under the proverbial microscope virtually every time they step outside wherever it is they call home. For better or worse these people are de facto role models, particularly now that cell phone cameras, social media and similar technological advances are everyday facts of life.

But then what normal human being has never acted or spoken rudely, angrily, disrespectfully or unpleasantly to someone? Who has never been guilty of using inappropriate language, cutting in line, telling a little white lie, running a red light, or exploiting an unfair advantage? Who hasn’t even once wasted food, had too much to drink, exceeded the speed limit, littered, missed an appointment, or committed, absent-mindedly or intentionally, any number of other venial sins?

The second question is, “What fate should befall a gainfully employed individual who leaves an angry, crude, profanity-laden, homophobic-slur-ridden tirade on an acquaintance’s telephone ending with a very clear threat, something along the lines of “I am after you!”?

One plausible result of such a situation: assuming the perpetrator’s employer and the target of the attempted intimidation were exceptionally understanding, the impulsive, overwrought threat-deliverer would be referred to some sort of counseling, knowing with certainty that if the inappropriate behavior reoccurred he (or she) would be fired. Another simpler, more straightforward outcome: instant termination for the transgressor, and, depending on extenuating circumstances, perhaps a restraining order and/or arrest warrant as well.

The third and final question: Should the current resident of the Blaine House continue serving as Maine’s governor?

On August 25 Governor Paul LePage made a phone call to state representative Drew Gattine, whose answering machine recorded the coarse, vulgar tirade verbatim. The Westbrook lawmaker, who the governor accused (without any corroborating evidence) of calling him a racist, released the contents of the phone call to the media, as Lepage’s message encouraged him to do. That prompted the thin-skinned, tough-talking, still-unrepentant governor to defiantly, publicly, and quite specifically double down on his threat the next day. Assembling a small group of reporters, he told them, “I wish it were 1825…. we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his (Gattine’s) eyes.”

In the ensuing days LePage, who can hardly be considered a first-time offender when it comes to exhibiting reactive, vindictive foolishness, halfheartedly attempted to show contrition, just as he’s done in the past after advisors told him he needed to.

Like when as a candidate for governor in 2010 he told a group of fishermen in Brooksville he wouldn’t be afraid to tell the president of the United States to “Go to Hell.”

Or when, after skipping Martin Luther King Jr. day observances in January, 2011, he said he considered the NAACP a special interest group, and that they could, “Kiss my butt.”

Or later that year when he quipped “women growing little beards” would be the only possible side effect of not banning BPA, an additive to plastics deemed potentially dangerous by some scientists, a group LePage consistently views with dismissive skepticism.

Or when, in remarks critical of the Obama administration’s health care reforms in a weekly radio address he gave in July 2012, he referred to the IRS as “The new Gestapo.”

Or in June 2013, when he said of a political opponent, “Sen. (Troy) Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline. He is bad. He has no brains, and he has a black heart.”

Or earlier this year, when he offhandedly mused, “Guys with the name ‘D-Money,’ ‘Smoothie,’ ‘Shifty’” come from New York and Connecticut to sell their heroin in Maine,” then added, “half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

Or, when that racially-charged critique wasn’t enough, he insisted that 90% of all the drug dealers arrested in Maine are black or Hispanic, when existing data clearly indicates that’s not the case.

Enough.

Documenting all the examples of how Governor LePage has brought shame, embarrassment, and disrepute to Maine isn’t possible in the space allotted here. The apologists and enablers who allow him to continue to do so should be ashamed of themselves.

Today’s first two discussion questions require thoughtful, nuanced answers. Not the third one, though. A simple two-letter, one-word response would more than suffice.

Andy Young teaches in York County, but happily the content he’s charged with delivering to his students doesn’t involve critiquing bellicose public servants.

Andy Young
September 5, 2016

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