Much has been made of Gov. LePage’s latest comment, about President Obama hating white people. Of course the reported comment made no sense, given that Obama was raised by his white mother and grandparents, but saying things that are sensible and accurate isn’t the gift of people who generally speak without thinking.
Regrettably, this is the kind of embarrassing distraction that we’ve come to expect from LePage. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t even ask, as they once did, whether it could be possible that he said it. They’ve come to assume that LePage is capable of saying almost anything.
What I found most disturbing about this latest incident wasn’t LePage’s alleged comment, but the actions he took afterward, as he tried to deflect responsibility for what he is reported to have said.
First, he said it wasn’t true. Then he had a few supporters run out to say they didn’t hear it, so it probably wasn’t true. Then he apologized to Republicans for muddying the water, blaming it on the press. A few days later, he told The Washington Post that he might have said most of it, but not all of it.
One of the core pillars of the Republican philosophy is personal responsibility, and it’s a good one. In promoting that idea, LePage seldom misses an opportunity to scold and lecture people who, he says, aren’t taking responsibility for their actions. That list, at various times, has included welfare recipients, uninsured people, the unemployed and minimum-wage workers.
But he seems to have no hesitation to repeatedly absolve himself of responsibility for his own actions. When confronted with his own words, and the prospect of embarrassment, he didn’t own up. Instead, he went into what can only be called a “duck, dodge and point” mode.
This behavior fits a larger pattern of LePage playing fast and loose with the facts, trotting out unbalanced conspiracies from the far right, stretching the facts even further when he gets in trouble and always trying to blame someone else.
LePage says it’s all because he grew up poor and downtrodden. I have to say, as someone who also grew up in poverty in Maine, I’m not any longer sympathetic to that excuse, which he’s used for too long.
Being born into poverty is hard, and it isn’t any kid’s fault. It can be a world with too few positive role models and too many people struggling with their own problems, lashing out at themselves and others.
It also can be a place where people develop a finely sharpened ability to justify bad behavior, mostly because they feel entitled, as though they’re owed something.
Here’s something worth considering, Governor: There are probably a hundred thousand people in Maine who grew up in difficult circumstances and broken families, with one or both parents affected by hopelessness, fear, anger, alcohol or drugs. Most of those people eventually overcame their beginnings to become successful, happy and loving people.
They did that by rejecting anger and self-pity, and dropping the habit of rationalizing into a trash bin along the way. They got to work on themselves and their future. They accepted the idea that poverty is a fact but not an excuse. And many gained a special strength from their adversity.
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, LePage said he now has a roll of duct tape on his desk, to use whenever he’s tempted to employ his infamous “blunt” talk. The last thing we need, at this moment in Maine’s history, is a governor who is silent because he can’t control what he says.
Maine’s economy is in the middle of a harrowing transition, fraught with new and unfamiliar global and ecological challenges.
We need to act, now, and act together. Maine people are already responding in many ways. But we need leadership from the CEO of the state, not more distractions.
The irony of LePage’s comments about Obama can be found in something that the president did in his first term, which wasn’t easy, but was the right thing to do. He spoke to a particular element of young black men who were using their poverty, and the reality of racism, as an excuse to live reckless lives, to abandon their children and to commit acts of violence against both blacks and whites.
Obama said something to those young men that our governor needs to ponder. He said: Get over it, man up and move on.
Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at: