My 3-year-old daughter doesn’t jump on the furniture. Why? Because my wife and I wouldn’t tolerate the behavior.
The boundaries set by parents, peer groups and leaders create clear expectations and bright behavioral red lines for what is acceptable and what is not. Silence, on the other hand, is a license.
And that is why the pervasive silence among the vast majority of Maine’s Republican leaders in the face of Gov. LePage’s brutish behavior is not only unfortunate, it’s grossly enabling.
The governor claims his “colorful” language is “the only way I can get your attention.” But when he makes off-the-cuff references to sexual assault or the Gestapo or suggests the president can “go to hell,” the only thing getting our attention is his crass, offensive and embarrassing comments, not the idea or policy about which he was speaking.
In truth, there is no legitimate excuse for the governor’s inflammatory rhetoric, not even the one he suggests.
What’s more, with his comments garnering nationwide attention and shared endlessly through digital and social media, Gov. LePage feeds the national narrative that Republicans are, in the words of Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, “the stupid party.” His behavior imperils local Republicans at the ballot box, as evidenced by their dramatic 2012 state legislative losses. And — worst of all — he presents Maine to the world as a backwater laughingstock.
So why have Republican leaders remained silent for so long, enduring one lip-biting, politically damning LePage episode after another with nary a peep of public protest?
Many will quickly point out that Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, offered a scathing critique of Gov. LePage just moments after the Senate overrode the governor’s budget veto.
Sen. Katz’s op-ed, published in the Portland Press Herald, noted the governor’s “use of vulgarity and schoolyard taunts to demean his Democratic opponents; his failure to offer real apology; and then his insulting of Republican legislators who choose to disagree with him.”
Katz concluded, “I am embarrassed,” and observed that “the governor’s behavior is something I have never seen in Maine politics, and could never imagine coming from a Republican.”
Sen. Katz is a true gentleman and honorable public servant. And I acknowledge his piece required significant political fortitude to pen and publish.
But coming at the very end of the legislative session, his statement of conscience arrived when it had the least practical consequence.
No doubt scores of Sen. Katz’s colleagues shared his embarrassment and outrage for months, but lacked the courage to speak. Had Katz or another similarly well-respected Republican leader stepped forward earlier, perhaps he (or she) would have emboldened his peers when it mattered most.
The result might have been a markedly different legislative session — one where Republicans felt empowered to override gubernatorial vetoes on legislation they’d overwhelmingly supported; where the governor and his staff came to the budget negotiating table as collaborative and constructive participants; where the preponderance of focus and energy remained on constructively conducting the people’s business.
But prior to Sen. Katz on June 26, no Republican leader — motivated either by conscience or political self-preservation — rose to rebuke the governor during this session.
Most conspicuously silent — and most regrettably so — are U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who only last Tuesday lent their good names to a fundraiser for the governor in Kennebunkport.
Snowe has devoted her post-Senate life to supporting the growth of bipartisanship and consensus-building. And Collins has built a reputation as a powerful and pragmatic Republican, periodically bucking her party on key issues.
In substance and style, both are the antithesis of Gov. Le-Page.
Yet after the governor’s offensive Vaseline comment, both offered only mild critiques, with Snowe calling his words “regrettable and inappropriate” and Collins saying she “felt it was appropriate that the governor apologized for his inappropriate comment.” For leaders of their stature, that’s insufficient.
Given Snowe’s personal relationship with the governor, she is in the most constructive position to offer him a meaningful public reproach. She should do so, lest her clarion calls for political civility ring hollow.
As for Collins, perhaps she fears angering LePage’s tea-party base and provoking a primary challenge. Or maybe she legitimately supports a man whose bluster and rage flies in the face of the moderate persona she’s cultivated. We’re left to conjecture.
What we do know is that the governor’s behavior cries out for the mature leadership and public censure of Maine’s Republican leaders. In the face of their silence, we comprehend only consent.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He can be contacted at: