The Universal Notebook: Colin Woodard explains it all

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Colin Woodard is Maine’s top journalist. To be more accurate, he’s Maine’s leading freelance intellectual, not only reporting on current events for the Portland newspapers, but researching and writing whole books about the political geography of America in attempt to understand what is happening to our country.

His early books include “Republic of Pirates” (which was the inspiration for the NBC series “Crossbones”), “Lobster Coast” and “Ocean’s End.” As his vision has become more ambitious in scope, Woodard has published “American Nations,” which explains the country’s 11 regional identities based on shared histories, and now “American Character,” which explains the political paralysis in this country through that same regional lens.

But don’t take my word for it that Woodard is the best. This year he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for “Mayday,” his six-part series on the impact of climate change on the Gulf of Maine. In 2014, The Washington Post named him one of the best state capitol reporters in America. And in 2012, he won a prestigious George Polk Award for his investigation of the for-profit online education industry and how it helped the LePage administration create Maine’s digital education policy.

Last week, Woodard was in Paris, Brussels, and Belgrade (Serbia, not Maine), speaking to the European Parliament about the upcoming U.S. elections. But even abroad he kept an eye on Maine, regularly posting links on Facebook to articles about Gov. Paul LePage’s daily antics.

Politically, Woodard strikes me as a pretty progressive guy, although he strives for old-fashioned non-partisan objectivity as a journalist. Woodard is married to Sarah Skillin Woodard, who works on behalf of Hillary Clinton in Maine, so I’m guessing I know where his loyalties lie, if he knows what’s good for him.

I was attracted to “American Nations” when it came out in 2011 because Woodard’s historical reconstruction of regional identities confirmed my own experience in a long-running feud with my cousins in Georgia.

I am from Yankeedom, an American “nation” defined, as Woodard reiterates in “American Character,” by “individual self-denial for the common good, investment in strong public institutions, and governmental projects to improve society.”

Though their mother and father are Portland, Maine Yankees, my cousins are denizens of the Deep South, a “nation” defined by a history of “apartheid and authoritarianism” that has left Dixie what Woodard calls “a hierarchical libertarian nation,” that seeks everywhere to limit the power of the federal government. It’s tea party territory.

As Woodard explains in “American Character,” the most fundamental division in American society is not North-South, black-white or Republican-Democrat. It is, in the words of the book’s subtitle, “the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good,” self-interest versus public interest, free versus fair. Those of us on the progressive end tend to place greater value on fairness and the public good, while those at the conservative end place greater value on individual freedom.

I know conservatives who don’t even believe there is such thing as the common good. On the other hand, I look at the Bill of Rights and see not an enumeration of individual liberties, but simply limitations on the power of the federal government to interfere with certain individual rights. I don’t get all upset about Obamacare because I see it as the common good, while conservatives go ballistic because they see it as an attack on their personal freedom.

The major takeaway from “American Character” is that “sustaining liberal democracy requires balancing those two essential aspects of human freedom: individual liberty and the freedom of the community.”

Woodard believes “the American Way” is “a free and fair competition between individual and the ideas, output and institutions they produce.” That marks him as a progressive, as most conservatives subscribe to a winner-take-all competition, fairness (gender equity, racial equality, economic justice) be damned. He advocates a fairness doctrine of reasonable government regulation he thinks would sell in nine of the 11 American nations, just not the Deep South or Greater Appalachia.

As to which party can lead us out of the individual liberty-common good stalemate that now afflicts our country, Woodard holds out scant hope that Republicans can do so.

“With the Tea Party takeover of great swaths of the party’s local- and state-level infrastructures,” he writes, “it’s hard to see the GOP being able to make the political sacrifices necessary to secure lasting power.”

Woodward’s analysis of what’s wrong in America is spot-on, but I’m not sure we can ask him for the solution. Still, if the answer is finding the proper balance between liberty and community, I’m thinking Hillary Clinton, the Middle Way, is looking pretty good these days.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Queenie42

    I love Colin Woodard’s books. He is a fantastic writer. My favorite is “The Lobster Coast”. It struck home with me as I used to haul traps. Then I began to read him on his web page. Very interesting.
    But I have to disagree with you about Clinton. Her “Middle Way” will be giving the middle finger to the middle class. We have too much oligarchy as it is with the middle class an endangered species, signaling the end of Democracy and the Republic.
    NAFTA and all the other trade deals that ship middle class jobs overseas are what is wrong and what is killing us. And I don’t think that anyone on the side of Wall Street and the DNC is going to stop the hemorrhaging.

    • EABeem

      There is no other choice.

      • jhophyde

        Yes there is! Bernie Sanders! The state of Maine caucuses went 2:1 for Bernie and for good reason! He has a doable affordable plan to help restore the middle class! He has honesty and integrity unlike the opposition. Hillary Clinton is a Republican in Democrat’s clothing! A Wall St corporatist war monger. Research her record – poor judgement and disingenuousness – not good presidential material! Plus she loses to Trump!

        • EABeem

          If Bernie wins the nomination I will vote for him. If Hillary wins I will vote for her. But I see little chance of Bernie being the nominee. Any D who does not vote for the D nominee deserves Trump.

          • Scott Harriman

            If the Democratic party wants to win, they had better nominate Sanders. Clinton’s approval ratings are bad and getting worse.

          • EABeem

            Don’t believe everything you read. Hillary is being smeared for doing things that every Sec of State did before her. Given a choice between Trump and Clinton only a complete fool would vote for Trump. If Trump is elected, he will start World War III and ruin the US economy. It’s all over if Trump wins.

          • funfundvierzig

            “Hillary is being smeared for doing things that every Sec. of State did before her”?

            You mean like setting up a massive eponymous Foundation with her corrupt-to-the core spouse for purposes of laundering money and collecting tens of $millions in bribes from shadowy foreign operatives?

            Or giving 50 minute speeches for $225,000 a pop to fraud-mongering bankers on Wall Street??

            Violating the secrecy and security laws relating to government documents with a jerry-rigged, home-made server?

            Every Secretary of State has done it?


          • EABeem

            Every Secretary of State has used their own email accounts. It’s not an issue.

          • funfundvierzig

            Not for the exclusive conduct of official business, tens of thousands of confidential e-mails?

            “Every Secretary of State has used their own email accounts.”

            Wait a minute. E-mails have only been around about two decades.

            Gotta laugh at your tortured defence of someone who operates not for the public good but so quintessentially for the good of herself and her waxing personal fortune.


          • EABeem

            Republicans have spent $100 million of taxpayer money trying to get some dirt on Hillary and all they’ve come up with is a handful of their own dog dirt. Bet you think she had Vince Foster killed, too. There’s nothing there but GOP fantasies. Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States.

          • funfundvierzig

            You might want to read a bit about the corrupt Clinton Foundation in articles in those “progressive” newspapers, The New York Times and Washington Post, before you didactically and categorically proclaim to your readers, “There’s nothing there…”


          • EABeem

            Hillary Clinton is the only person running for president who is qualified.

          • funfundvierzig

            If you believe Ms. Clinton possesses the character and probity for the office and will operate consistently with transparency and be truthful to the American people, never lie, cheat, or deal in dirt and serve for the universal public good and fairness throughout the nation, that’s your opinion. We’re fine with it. No objection.

            The undersigned merely thinks otherwise.


          • EABeem

            Given a choice between Hillary and Kim Jong Trump, I’ll take Hillary every time.

          • funfundvierzig

            Even though Kim Jong of North Korea is more “progressive” than the perennially prevaricating Presidential aspirant in the protuberant pantsuit in terms of forgoing “individual liberty” for the “common good” and “fairness”? Using your own metric? …funfun..

          • EABeem

            I forgot: conservatives love dictators.

          • funfundvierzig

            “conservatives love dictators”.

            You mean like the ultimate “progressives” on the extreme left who love Castro and loved Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez, and earlier loved Stalin and Mao?


          • EABeem

            Push too far one way and you get anarchy, push too far the other and you get totalitarianism. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt that you understand that Kim is not progressive, you’re just playing dumb because you think it allows you make some twisted point. If I have been hoisted on a petard, it is Woodard’s, as it is his analysis I am describing above.
            DISCLOSURE: You never lose an argument to anyone who does not have the courage to identify himself.

          • funfundvierzig

            Further DISCLOSURE: The undersigned has been compelled to remain anonymous for this reason:

            For years, we have questioned the performance and quality of DuPont Company Management. In particular we have researched and written frequently on the covert contamination of the drinking water supplies of 100,000 unsuspecting women, men, and children in Ohio and West Virginia, by a DuPlicitous DuPont Management for decades. The contaminant: DuPont’s extraordinarily toxic Teflon chemical, PFOA or C8, dangerous in quantities as tiny as .30 parts per billion. According to epidemiologists who have studied the matter extensively this vile DuPont toxin can be the probable cause of kidney and testicular cancers and various illnesses including preclampsia in pregnant women and thyroid disease in patients contaminated by DuPont C8. DuPont’s deceptive bosses has insisted for years, their Teflon Toxin C8 was perfectly “safe”, has “no human health effects” and is innocent as Snow White.

            In return, the undersigned has been systematically cyber-stalked and harassed and threatened over the internet by vindictive operatives, some of whom have openly and proudly identified themselves as DuPont employees and bonus-paid DuPont Managers.

            Given the vindictive campaign to shut us down and shut us up constantly waged by dirty-operating and admitted representatives of the DuPont Company, we must remain as unidentified as much as possible.

            Mr. Beem, is the drinking water from your home taps free of this omnipresent, unnatural manmade Teflon Toxin, which accumulates insidiously in the body? Many localities, such as those in upstate New York and southern New Jersey are finding bountiful quantities of C8 in the water used for drinking and bathing and cooking. Wherever Teflon was manufactured or fabricated by industrial customers is suspect.

            Carry on…funfun..

          • Just Sayin’

            I can’t honestly feel that Hillary is anything but a losing game at this point.

            She’s consistently polled worse against Trump than Bernie has. Frequently to the point of polls showing her losing the race, where Bernie would win. That’s an enormous thing to consider right there.

            Hillary is losing popularity the longer this goes on. The #1 reason people plan to vote for Trump is to counter votes for Hillary, so she’s bringing more people out of the woodwork for the opposition.

            You claim that the Republicans are spending tons and not digging up any dirt of value, but the majority of people consider Hillary to be dishonest and untrustworthy. Whether that’s due to right wing smear jobs or her own actions, it’s stuck. Going to bat for a candidate that nobody trusts over one that fires up your base seems like idiocy in action to me.

            Hillary is so hawkish and in bed with wall street that I can’t help but think that even if she does win, that her presidency will be only marginally better than Trump’s. She can’t decide where she stands on important issues such as the environment, financial inequality and education. Furthermore, she is so unpopular now that her tenure will almost certainly leave the country in an anti-democrat mood after her term in office, and that is sure to influence the following elections in the favor of the right.

            I’m honestly not convinced that there is a choice outside of Sanders who will be good for the country. Hillary is the lesser of two evils, and I will likely vote for her over Trump if given no other choice, but unless I truly have no other option I cannot fathom supporting her over Sanders.

          • Queenie42

            You make excellent points. I don’t know about you but I am damned sick of voting for the lesser of two evils. Evil still wins. I am writing in Bernie Sanders.

          • EABeem

            The majority of people have a negative opinion of Hillary because the GOP has paid to create that opinion. As I have said, I will vote for Bernie if he is the nominee and I will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee. I have no respect whatsoever for any Democrat who won’t vote for the Democratic nominee. If Hillary is the nominee a vote for Sanders is a vote for Trump. Either D will beat Trump.

          • Just Sayin’

            Once again, I have a hard time believing that the GOP’s smear campaigns are that effective. Every democrat to go through this process faces these smear campaigns, and most people manage to brush them aside. Hillary has handled every step of it poorly. It isn’t just the scandals, some of which may be manufactured, but the attitude that she holds when dealing with them. She isn’t above the law, and acting as if she can just laugh these issues and the concerns of the public off has hurt her in the race, and does not show the kind of mentality I want in a person who could be leading the country.

            While I am likely to vote for whoever gets the nomination, this year. I can’t help but feel that Hillary is a democrat in name only, and really runs on the platform of a moderate republican. I also can’t help but feel that this is the last election to which I will commit myself to the democratic party, as the party seems to be moving further from the left each year, and has shown an unparalleled amount of bias and corruption this election cycle. The party’s values have shifted and the strong grassroots support for Sanders shows just how much old school democratic ideals are still present within the people, but not the party. I’m really not interested in a party that capitulates in selling out its own base.

            I fail to grasp how you think she is the ‘only qualified’ candidate, or how you can feel any kind of certainty that she will beat trump. The numbers up to this point have looked shaky on that equation, and there is a significant percentage of people who support Sanders not because of his party affiliation, but because he represents a truly different kind of politician. Hillary on the other hand is as much of an establishment insider as you can be. It’s not hard to see why some of those people would choose to try backing fresh blood, even if it meant voting for someone as risky as trump. Conversely, I have yet to hear a Hillary supporter have any complaints about voting for Sanders if he gets the nomination.

            And while I do agree that the risks of having Trump as a leader are indeed great, this leaves me all the more baffled by your premature decision to declare Hillary the only qualified candidate.

            I don’t think she can win, nor am I convinced that it will be the best thing for this country if she does. As a last ditch alternative to Trump, I can understand supporting her, but I am simply flummoxed that she is anyone’s first choice.

          • EABeem

            I will vote for Hillary or Bernie. Any D who can’t make that pledge might as well vote for Trump. I understand that Bernie has the same appeal to the young that Gene McCarthy had when I was young. I started out supporting Bernie and contributing to his campaign, but he very quickly abandoned his keep-it-positive pledge and it became quite clear that he is a one-issue candidate — economic justice. He’s weak on foreign policy and he voted against immigration reform. And he is not a progressive at all on some issues, having cynically voted against gun control just to appeal to his rural constituency. Bottom line: I believe Hillary will wipe Trump’s sorry butt.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Beem once again labels the majority of the population as too stupid to make their own decisions or form their own opinions. Not suprising since as a regressive he and his ilk rely on keeping people uninformed, angry and poor so the regressive elite can tell everyone how to think and live.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Beem logic: if people have done something before it makes it A-OK!! I will be sure to remember this wonderful line of Beem logic for future use when pointing out your hypocrisy.

  • Charles Martel

    Geez, and I always thought you were Maine’s top journalist. It must be a tough morning for you now that Trump is the likely Republican nominee who will finally send Hillary packing.

    • EABeem

      526 positive review, 83 critical reviews. Of course they allow anonymous crackpots to review on Amazon, but I am still declaring Woodard the winner.

      • Charles Martel

        Made you look though….

      • GOPatriot

        In my view Woodard doesn’t let any region off the hook. All have pluses and minuses, but some reviewers of American Nations seem to find his conclusions a bit uncomfortable. For example, while he sounds harsh in his assessment of the culture of the deep south, he also repeatedly paints Yankeedom as a bunch of pious busybodies.

  • funfundvierzig

    “Those of us on the progressive end tend to place greater value on fairness and the public good.”

    “I know conservatives who don’t even believe there is such thing as the common good.”

    Once again, Mr. Beem under the weight of his illogical logorrhea, topples off the beam. As an advanced “progressive”, the self-adulating Mr. Beam arrogates a large quantum of “fairness” to himself. But carrying through his conflation of fairness and progressiveness, the most “progressive” countries in the world should be the fairest, right? So Cuba and Venezuela and the Peoples Republic of China dedicated unquestionably to the common good, the most progressive on the political spectrum should be the fairest of them all. Citizens therein should have little complaint, luxuriating in their “public good” and “fairness.”


  • areyoukiddingme

    I’d no doubt you would fully be a ‘D’ supporter that’s a gene. But in this case humor me and name a single thing Hillary has done that you consider exemplary. just one would be OK for discussion.

    • EABeem

      Here’s a partial list. Now tell me what Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have accomplished in the public arena.

      •First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
      •President of the Wellesley Young Republicans
      •Intern at the House Republican Conference
      •Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School
      •Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action
      •Appointed to Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migratory Labor.
      •Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
      •Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund
      •Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
      •Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
      •First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation
      •First female partner at Rose Law Firm.
      •Former civil litigation attorney.
      •Former Law Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
      •twice listed by The National Law Journal as one of the hundred most influential lawyers in America
      •Former First Lady of Arkansas.
      •Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983
      •Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession
      •twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America
      •created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth
      •led a task force that reformed Arkansas’s education system
      •Board of directors of Wal-Mart and several other corporations
      •Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
      •Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses
      •Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health
      •Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome)
      •Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice
      •Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act
      •First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree
      •Traveled to 79 countries during time as FLOTUS
      •Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
      •Served on five Senate committees:
      -Committee on Budget (2001–2002)
      -Committee on Armed Services (2003–2009)
      -Committee on Environment and Public Works (2001–2009)
      -Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009)
      -Special Committee on Aging.
      •Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
      •Instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment
      •Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
      •In the aftermath of September 11th, she worked closely with her senior Senate counterpart from New York, Sen. Charles Schumer, on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
      • Middle East ceasefire. In November 2012, Secretary of State Clinton brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
      •Introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, intended to protect children from inappropriate content found in video games.
      •First ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate (and re-elected)
      •Two-term New York Senator
      -(senate stats here:…)
      -(voting record here:…)
      •Former US Secretary of State
      •GRAMMY Award Winner

      • areyoukiddingme

        Wow what a list. I sometimes enjoy your comments as a counterbalance to my views, but in this case I think you completely missed the point and are lost. You are totally confusing ‘participation’ with accomplishment. I don’t even know where to begin on this list.
        Every year about 4K (yup that’s thousand) US colleges have commencement speaker. Did she give a great speech? Don’t know. Did it accomplish anything. Nope.
        Fly to 79 countries at taxpayer expense. Sure did, but accomplish anything. Nope.
        Vote in the Senate. Sure did, but accomplish anything. Nope.
        I can literally take your whole list and say. Yup she was a named participant in it, a member of it, but there is no record that she actually did anything of note.
        ‘former first lady’ is my favorite. Marry well. Yup she did that.
        But for the majority of it, it is either privilege or participation. I’m willing to research a few of them to see the truth (like SCHIP) but I’d bet money you are way beyond the facts.

        • areyoukiddingme

          Well that didn’t take much work on SCHIP. You are the President’s wife. You (HE) want a bill passed. You meet up with certain democratic Senators to argue for the bill. You can’t vote, you have no legal participation in the process, and no specific role in the passage. And for that you want to name her ‘instrumental’. areyoukiddingme

          • EABeem

            Restored respect for US foreign policy in the wake of Bush II fiascos. Sanders has fewer “accomplishments” and is not as progressive as his most ardent supporters seem to think. And Trump has never done anything for the public good. So the choice seems clear to me.

      • Just Sayin’

        I’m glad to see you actually post some of the reasons you feel she is the right person for the job. Since you asked for it, I’m going to include a similar bullet list below for Sanders. But before I do that, I want to point out what doesn’t fit so well into a bullet point.

        For decades now, the Democratic party has been shifting to the right. There are a number of reasons for this, but what’s important is that, in general, the party continues this trend, year after year. We see democrats courting wall street more and more, becoming ever more disingenuous to the people they supposedly represent. We’re never, EVER, going to see the left get stronger with this tactic. Bernie Sanders represents the first true chance for positive change for the party and the government as a whole. He represents the kind of hope and change that Obama campaigned on but was able to deliver so precious little of. That’s why he’s popular, and to more than just young people. The opposition arrayed against him has been obvious and staunch, to the point that people tried to write him off as an impossible candidate from the very beginning.

        That being said, he’s pulled together a strong campaign that continues to give Hillary a race for her wallstreet-given money. Where the media claimed it would be impossible to compete, he hasn’t just clung on, he’s flourished and showed us that it is entirely possible to run a presidential campaign without being bought and sold in the process. Why people don’t see the value of this and respect it is still a subject of confusion and consternation for me. All of that being said, allow me to continue with the bullet points:

        * Began political activism early, organizing the first civil rights sit-in in Chigago history.

        * Defeated a 5-term incumbent to become mayor of Burlington.

        * Won re-election 3 times. As mayor he:

        * Doubled voter turnout during his tenure. (And has publicly called for voting days to become federal holidays to allow more of the citizenry to vote in major elections)

        * Balanced the city budget. (There are plenty of mayors who don’t)

        * Funded programs that helped offer training to women who wished to expand into less traditional areas of the workplace.

        * Was voted one of America’s Best Mayors in 1987

        * He taught Political Science at Harvard’s Kennedy School and also at Hamilton College.

        * Went on to be elected to the US House of Representatives, was labelled the “First Socialist Elected” to the position.

        * Served in the House for 16 years, winning re-elections by large margins every year but one.

        * Co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus and ran it for 8 years. It is currently the largest organization within the Democratic congressional caucus.

        * Voted AGAINST the use of force in Iraq in 1991 and 2002, and voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

        * Voted AGAINST the patriot act and went on to sponsor several amendments that limited its powers.

        * Was an open critic of Federal Reserve Head Alan Greenspan, who’s flawed economic ideology contributed heavily to the toxic mortgage lending problem.

        * Earned the nickname “The Amendment King” for passing more amendments in his time in the House than any other member. (Despite the uphill battle of being a socialist in the House)

        * Amongst the more important of his amendments were measures to: Improve education in ways that saved students and universities money, Expanded free health care to the tune of $100 million, prevented the US from importing goods made by child labor, helped win funding to heat and insulate housing for the poor, and many others.

        * Earned a seat in the U.S. Senate, defeating a wealthy businessman who ran one of the most expensive campaigns in the history of the state.

        * Was named the third-most popular senator in the country in 2011.

        * Was given a score of 100 percent by both the NAACP and the NHLA during his time in the senate.

        * Named one of the top American Jews in the Forward 50 in 2015.

        * Chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs 2013-2014

        * Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Budget Comittee

        * Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee for Primary Health and Aging

        * Passed an amendment mandating federal buildings to begin to incorporate Solar energy.

        * Made sure that the bailout money wasn’t used to hire cheaper foreign workers to replace American labor.

        * Helped parents in the Armed Forces receive adequate child care by requiring the Comptroller General to submit accurate reports on the matter.

        * Required the publicizing of a database of names of senior Department officials seeking employment with defense contractors, helping to cut down on corruption.

        * Introduced legislation to break up the big banks and end “Too big to fail”.

        * Participated in MLK’s Civil Rights March, one of 2 senators to actually witness his “I have a dream” speech.

        * Voted against NAFTA, the Keystone Pipeline,

        * Introduced bills to ban private prisons and end the quota system on the number of immigrants held in detention.

        * Earlier this year he placed a hold on FDA Nominee Robert Califf over close ties to the pharmaceutical industry and a lack of interest in lowering drug prices for consumers.

        * Inspires Americans to take part in the political process far more than Hillary does.

        I can go on in detail, and I would be happy to, but I’d need to take the time to organize points into something a little more readable. I see a lot more in this list that makes me feel he’s a good choice for a leader. I don’t really care that he’s never won a Grammy, or been married to the President, and I’m actually consider it a major point in his favor that he’s never been on the board of Wal-Mart.

  • Matthew Holbrook

    You and Woodward ascribe to a false dichotomy: individual liberty versus the common good. Everyday, individuals go about their business, exercising their freedom while promoting the common good. One can go into any coffee shop and watch as people, in pursuit of their own interests, figure out how to line up and wait their turn. There’s no need for a police officer or some government official to provide any guidance. It is the very essence of Adam Smith’s metaphor of the “invisible hand”: individuals pursuing their own interests yet advancing the interests of all. Adam Smith had another nice term for it: the natural order of liberty. As he said in Wealth of Nations: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages” But this is not a “winner-take-all, fairness be damned” philosophy. It is based on voluntary exchange, where each party gains by getting something of more value than what is exchanged for it. I go to the store and buy groceries; I value the groceries more than the money I lay down to pay for them. The store owner values the money I pay her more than groceries she puts up for sale. This is wholly more moral than the world of coercion that is government, for that is what is really meant by “the common good.” For government is force; I have no choice but to pay my taxes unless I wish to bear punishment for not doing so. The idea that this is some kind of noble and virtuous institution is ludicrous. It is mostly about creating winners and losers, or bullying people for what is believed to be their own good. There is nothing “progressive” about it.

    • EABeem

      I have had conservatives scoff at the very idea of the common good. They give Bowdoin College crap for stressing the Common Good. Don’t tell me it’s a false dichotomy. Yes, you can value both, but when it comes to what divides people it’s at the heart of the culture wars.

      • Jimmy_John67

        Can you provide examples of people giving Bowdoin crap for stressing the Common Good?

        • EABeem

          The National Association of Scholars, a bunch of conservative boobs, wrote a whole book on the subject.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Oh yeah now I remember that thing. Yeah agree that book was a ridiculous piece of cr@p.

            Goes to prove my constant point that extreme conservatives and progressives are just two sides of the same moronic coin.

      • Matthew Holbrook

        So give me your definition of the “common good.” Right now, it just sounds like some base-stealing word to cover something more controversial. If there is a “common good,” I prefer individuals working that out among themselves and not having it mandated by mandarins who think they know better. And to me, that’s what’s at the heart of the culture wars – two sides who want the chance to bully the rest for their own “good.”

        • EABeem

          From Encyclopedia Britannica:

          Common good, that which benefits society as a whole, in contrast to the private good of individuals and sections of society.

          From the era of the ancient Greek city-states through contemporary political philosophy, the idea of the common good has pointed toward the possibility that certain goods, such as security and justice, can be achieved only through citizenship, collective action, and active participation in the public realm of politics and public service. In effect, the notion of the common good is a denial that society is and should be composed of atomized individuals living in isolation from one another. Instead, its proponents have asserted that people can and should live their lives as citizens deeply embedded in social relationships.

          The notion of the common good has been a consistent theme in Western political philosophy, most notably in the work of Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It has been most clearly developed in the political theory of republicanism, which has contended that the common good is something that can only be achieved through political means and the collective action of citizens participating in their own self-government. At the same time, the notion of the common good has been closely bound up with the idea of citizenship, a mutual commitment to common goods and the value of political action as public service. Therefore, it has played a prominent role in the defense of republican constitutional arrangements, notably the defense of the Constitution of the United States in the Federalist papers.

          In Book I of the Politics, Aristotle asserted that man is political by nature. It is only through participation as citizens in the political community, or polis, provided by the state that men may achieve the common good of community safety—only as citizens and through active engagement with politics, whether as a public servant, a participant in the deliberation of laws and justice, or as a soldier defending the polis, that the common good can be achieved. Indeed, Aristotle argued that only matters of the common good are right; matters for the rulers’ good are wrong.

          The notion of the common good was next taken up in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the work of Machiavelli, most famously in The Prince. Machiavelli contended that securing the common good would depend upon the existence of virtuous citizens. Indeed, Machiavelli developed the notion of virtù to denote the quality of promoting the common good through the act of citizenship, be it through military or political action.

          For Rousseau, writing in the mid-18th century, the notion of the common good, achieved through the active and voluntary commitment of citizens, was to be distinguished from the pursuit of an individual’s private will. Thus, the “general will” of the citizens of a republic, acting as a corporate body, should be distinguished from the particular will of the individual. Political authority would only be regarded as legitimate if it was according to the general will and toward the common good. The pursuit of the common good would enable the state to act as a moral community.

          The importance of the common good to the republican ideal was notably illustrated with the publication of the Federalist papers, in which Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay provided a passionate defense of the new Constitution of the United States. Madison, for example, argued that political constitutions should seek out wise, discerning rulers in search of the common good.

          In the modern era, instead of a single common good, an emphasis has been placed upon the possibility of realizing a number of politically defined common goods, including certain goods arising from the act of citizenship. The common good has been defined as either the corporate good of a social group, the aggregate of individual goods, or the ensemble of conditions for individual goods.

          Because the common good has been associated with the existence of an active, public-spirited citizenry, which has acknowledged the duty of performing public service (whether politically or, in the case of the ancient Greek city-states, militarily), its relevance to contemporary politics has been called into question. In the modern era the emphasis has been placed on the maximization of the freedom of the individual, as consumer and property owner discovering that freedom in the private domain of liberalized markets rather than as citizen achieving the common good in the public domain.

          Nevertheless, for contemporary politics, the importance of the idea of the common good remains in that it identifies the possibility that politics can be about more than building an institutional framework for the narrow pursuit of individual self-interest in the essentially private domain of liberalized markets. The common good points toward the way in which freedom, autonomy, and self-government can be realized through the collective action and active participation of individuals, not as atomized consumers but as active citizens in the public domain of politics. It also affords the possibility that political participation can have an intrinsic value, in its own right, in addition to its instrumental value of securing the common good.

          • Matthew Holbrook

            Well, we now know that you can use copy and paste. I can see why you’ve adopted it, as it reflects your bias against and misunderstanding about how markets actually work and how free individuals actually cooperate with each other outside of the realm of politics. I also find it amusing that the “common good” is being defined by Aristotle, who tutored Alexander of Macedon, the very thug who ended the freedom of the Greek city-states; Machiavelli, who brought cynicism in politics to high art; and Rousseau, whose philosophy inspired Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Keep on living in that echo chamber of yours.

          • EABeem

            I thought I was offering you an objective assessment of what is traditionally meant by the Common Good. It is what I mean by the common good. I won’t bother wasting any more time on you as you are obviously not sincere, just look for something to twist out of shape. I find that conservatives always want simple answers. Science has determined that their mind respond primarily to fear an can’t grasp complexity.

          • Matthew Holbrook

            For someone who refers to his opponents as “boobs,” you have quite a thin skin. Frankly, you haven’t read anything I wrote, nor did you do any critical analysis on what you copied from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The article is not objective; it is clearly biased. It portrays the common good as essentially a public, political concern, and is dismissive of the private sector and any role it has in promoting it. I think that is an overly simple answer. They call that “confirmation bias,” by the way. And your last sentence confirms my suspicions: you’re basically a narrow-minded bigot.

          • Jimmy_John67

            Once again Beem can’t keep up intellectually in a debate so he resorts to name calling then runs away like the petulant child he is. What a sad and sorry existence he must lead.

          • EABeem

            I am happy to engage with readers who have a genuine interest in discussion, debate, even argument, but once I determine that a reader just interested in insulting me, I stop wasting my time. Very few if any journalists bother to respond to anonymous comments. I thought maybe you were more interested in reasonable discussion when you conceded that the National Association of Scholars did in fact attack Bowdoin and the Common Good. I guess I was wrong. Mr. Holbrook seemed to be interested in a reasonable discussion until I responded to his request for my definition of the Common Good with a textbook explanation and all he could say was that it was cut and paste job. I have written this column every week since 2003. I have taken all sorts of verbal abuse from online crackpots. I do not have a thin skin, but I know when I’m wasting my time.

          • Jimmy_John67

            First off, let’s be clear that you are not a journalist, you are a troll. I know it and you know it. Calling yourself a journalist is an insult to actual journalists like Mr. Woodard. Maybe at one time in your career you were a journalist but at some point you made the decision to take the easy path and devolve into a troll.

            Secondly, saying you are interested in discussion or debate is laughable. You are only interested in being “right” and only engage with people who share your incredibly narrow world view. Case in point, you just admitted you only thought to engage me again once you realized I agreed with you on a given topic. If someone disagrees with you, instead of rational discussion, you change the subject or start name calling and apply sweeping generalizations. Once I discovered that was your modus operandi I stopped attempting to engage you in debate and instead now just comment to educate other readers to your true identity as a hypocritical, egotistical bully.

            Finally, I almost spit out my coffee when you said you weren’t thin skinned and I wasn’t even drinking any. Just like LePage and Trump you are someone who is so thin skinned that you can’t even tolerate opposing views and lash out with anger and insults when presented with logical opposition. You are too thin skinned to even value or consider different opinions or ways of doing things on the off chance that they may open your narrow mind. Just like LePage and Trump you like to trumpet how tough and immune to insults you are but like them and all ignorant bullies your actions show how insecure you really are.

            I’m not interested in wasting time engaging you anymore so I could care less if you respond to this or any other comment but I will always be there to point out your true intentions because it is my firm belief that trolls like you, Fox News, MSNBC etc are the reason we have such political and cultural division in this country today and the reason two moronic ideologues like Trump and Sanders are legitimate candidates for President.

          • EABeem


            “The Power of the Liberal Arts,” Bowdoin, Winter 2016.

            “Gimme Shelter,” (Kim Vose Jones art
            exhibition), Maine Art Journal,
            Spring 2016.

            “All Grown Up,” (Johnny’s Selected Seeds), Down East, March 2016.

            “Global Impact,” (Osher Map Library), Humanities Spring 2016

            “Off the Radar: Impressions of Contemporary
            Art in New Brunswick Through Maine Eyes,” Billie.

            “Spirit of the Wild,” (artist Susan Amons),
            Down East

            100 photographer biographies for Capitol Records Photobook (Taschen).


            “Historic Front,” (renovation of Castine,
            Maine, home by Elliott & Elliott), Design
            New England, January/February 2015.

            “20 Questions: Maine charter schools,” Down East, January 2015.

            “Hitting the Reset Button,” (four profiles
            of active retirees), Down East, February

            “Wild Women of Vinalhaven,” (artists
            Marguerite White, Alison Hildreth, Diana Cherbuliez, Kitty Wales), Down East, April 2015.

            “PDN’s 30 (Dina Oganova, Jonno Rattman,
            Yeung Yeong Un) Photo District News,
            April 2015.

            “How I Got That Grant: Aaron Siskind
            Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship,” Photo District News, May 2015.

            “SoPo So Good” (Trendy South Portland), Down East, June 2015.

            “East Side-West Side,” (Sebago Lake), Down East, July 2015.

            “Raising Ali: A Lewiston Story.” (half-hour
            documentary about the 1965 title fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston),
            directed by Gary Robinov of White Dog Arts, produced by Charlie Hewitt, written
            and narrated by Edgar Allen Beem, aired on Maine Public Broadcasting Network,
            May 25 and May 28, 2015.

            “Alfred Chadbourn,” catalogue of
            retrospective exhibition, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, July, 2015.

            “A House for Ben,” (architecture and
            accessibility), Design New England,
            May-June, 2015.

            “SoPo So Good,” (The new South Portland), Down East, July 2015.

            “Winter in July?” (Abelardo Morell
            photographs at Bowdoin College Museum of Art), Down East, July 2015.

            “World War II Left a Big Footprint on Casco
            Bay,” Island Journal, Volume 31, June

            Art on Demand,” (photo commissions) Photo
            District News, July 2015.

            “War of Secession,” (Caribou secession
            movement), Down East, September 2015.

            “Beyond Modern,” (DiMillo House), Design New England, September/November

            “The Real Deal,” (Fuller House), Design New England, November/December


            “The Green Crab Invasion,” Down East, January 2014.

            “Riding the Big Gray Wave,” (Maine is the oldest
            state in the nation), Down East,
            February 2014.

            “Portraits That Tell Stories,” (photographer’s
            Andrew McConnell, Joe Pugliese and Jocelyn Lee), Photo District News, March

            “PDN’s 30 (emerging photographers Mosa’ab
            Elshamy, Siarhei Hudzilin,Greer Muldowney and Brea Souders), Photo District News, April 2014.

            “A Creative Nest,” (Artist couple Todd Watts & Gemma Gascoine), Down East, April 2014.

            “Drawing the Line: FEMA stirs up a flood of
            controversy along the coast (floodplain maps), Down East, May 2014.

            “What to Expect from the
            Photographer/Gallery Relationship,” Photo
            District News, July 2014.

            “Unquenchable Spirit,” (Painter Jon Imber), Down East, July 2014.

            on the Rise,” Down East, July 2014.

            “Biblioteca Magnifica,” (Two Ponds Library) Design New England, July-August 2014.

            “The Nature of Art,” (sculpture curator June
            LaCombe) Down East, August 2014.

            “Driving the Sheepscot,” Yankee, Sept/Oct 2014.

            “A Crying Shame,” (child abuse in Maine), Down East, September 2014.

            “The Langlais Legacy,” (sculptor Bernard
            Lamglais), Down East, September 2014.

            “Nothing Left to Chance,” (Photographer Cig
            Harvey), PRO Photographer,
            October/November 2014.

            “Coles Tower @ 50 Bowdoin,” Bowdoin, Fall 2014.

            “Eccentric Elegance,” (Lockwood carriage
            house in Bath) Down East, November

          • Matthew Holbrook

            Mr. Beem, first of all, I didn’t say it was a “cut and paste job.” Secondly, I asked for your definition, not one from an encyclopedia. Thirdly, I actually provided you with some information that you don’t seem to know about the intellectuals who were used as references in the encyclopedia article, information that questions the article’s usefulness as a definition of the common good. Finally, you resorted to some pseudo-scientific theory regarding the intellectual capacity of conservatives (never mind whether I even consider myself to be a conservative). If you consider what I wrote to be verbal abuse, you do have a thin skin. For someone who has hurled verbal abuse on his opponents since 2003, you led me to believe you’d have more moxie when it comes to debating. I guess I was the one wasting my time.

          • EABeem

            I wasn’t talking about you. I was responding to Jim-Bob who suggests I must have a sad and sorry existence because I disagree with him. So, tell me, do you think of mutual insurance as an inclination toward individual liberty or the common good?

          • Matthew Holbrook

            If you mean by “mutual insurance” arrangement where individuals pool resources to mitigate the risks among themselves, I see that as both an expression of individual liberty and a promotion of a common good. That is provided we are talking about individuals freely making the choice to join such arrangements.

          • EABeem

            I guess I meant employers banding together to self-insure for workers’ comp.

          • Matthew Holbrook

            I see that as one of the those arrangements. Substitute “employers” for “individuals.” The employers would have their individual goals and plans that they wish to achieve, but find common cause among themselves regarding this aspect of business. Really, that is the nature of insurance in general: the pooling of resources for the mitigation of risk.

  • EABeem

    The Common Good is the basis of civilization. It is the fundamental value underlying democracy and the founding principle of the United States.