Unless you live in a bomb shelter, you know about the fire storm that erupted last week after Gov. Paul LePage told the NAACP to “kiss my butt.”
It was a new low for the new governor, whose promise last year to tell the president of the United States “to go to hell” was largely written off as a stream-of-consciousness campaign-trail rant in keeping with the then-Waterville mayor’s working-class personality.
His staff’s explanation for the most recent insult – that the governor was speaking “in the direct manner people have come to expect” – leaves much to be desired. It’s hard to believe that many of the 38 percent of Maine voters who put LePage in office last November, let alone the majority who voted for other candidates, are proud of their governor.
On the contrary, most Mainers are probably deeply disturbed and embarrassed by LePage, who three days after the fact had not even acknowledged the damage and impropriety of his words, let alone apologized for speaking them.
LePage’s remarks – the type usually heard in bar-room or playground arguments – were even more inflammatory and disappointing because they came on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and because he derisively described the NAACP as a “special-interest group.” Whether or not you agree with that characterization, one has to wonder if the governor uses the term when he describes, for example, the National Rifle Association, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Right to Life Committee or Maine Heritage Policy Center.
The governor also accused the NAACP of playing “the race card” when its leaders said they were concerned that LePage is demonstrating a pattern of behavior by snubbing annual MLK Jr. Day events. But it was LePage who brought race into the discussion, suggesting his “black son” – a questionable way to describe someone who is neither adopted nor a LePage offspring – could set the critics straight.
On Monday, when the governor made a surprise appearance at an MLK Jr. Day breakfast in Waterville, his attendance seemed all too calculated; a too-little, too-late attempt to patronize those who criticized him for the lack of thought involved when LePage spoke the previous Friday.
Unfortunately, the pattern of speech that LePage is displaying gives little hope that there’s much thought going on at all. And that is what is truly worrisome. Whether you agree or not with his politics and policies, Maine needs a governor who can present and defend those policies with rational, respectful, and well-defined arguments, not stream-of-consciousness, knee-jerk rants.
LePage’s language and behavior must reflect that he now works at the Blaine House, not the Marden’s warehouse. Mainers deserve better from their governor, and we and the NAACP deserve an apology for the embarrassment he has caused, as well as a pledge to refrain from future scorched-earth political rhetoric.