Ethan: RoboCalls. Web videos. Visits to senior centers. Attacks on opponents and newspapers. Wow, Gov. Paul LePage is on damage-control overdrive after he let slip that he believes seniors collecting Social Security are no different from Ronald Reagan’s mythical welfare queens.

Phil: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down there, California Chrome! LePage did not equate seniors collecting earned retirement benefits with those who cheat the system.

Ethan: Well, he seems to believe that “most” on welfare cheat the system. If he also believes, as his press release said, that Social Security is welfare, he must believe seniors on Social Security are cheating. What did I miss?

Phil: First of all, LePage didn’t say Social Security is welfare. I suspect someone in his office sent out a press release – while he was flying back from China – and unwittingly included a statement that the governor does not agree with.

Ethan: Are you saying he didn’t approve the press release?

Phil: I have no idea. But I do know that his efforts have made it clear he does not equate Social Security with welfare. I will believe the words from his mouth over the words of a staff-produced press release.

Ethan: Whether he approved it or not, he is clearly trying to dampen the damage.

Phil: Yes, by following the time-proven theory of the Karl Rove School of Crisis Response: Change the subject by attacking the messenger and his opponent.

Ethan: Indeed. First he went after the Press Herald for “manipulating” what he said. When that didn’t get any traction, he went after his opponent by pulling out a vote from a million years ago.

Phil: “A million years ago”? The vote he is referencing was when Mike Michaud and I were colleagues in the Maine Senate and Michaud voted to tax Social Security benefits.

Ethan: Like I said, “a million years ago.”

Phil: Your youth and inexperience lead you to believe that politics only began in the 21st century. The year was 1998, and while Michaud did indeed vote to tax Social Security benefits, I voted no (thankfully, Gov. Angus King vetoed the bill, so it did not become law). A politician’s vote seems to me more meaningful than a staff-produced press release.

Ethan: Perhaps, but, as you said, LePage is simply trying to change the subject. The issue of Michaud’s vote from 16 years ago has been tried against him over and over. It didn’t work then, and I doubt it will work now. However, LePage’s recent statement will do damage, and that’s why he’s scrambling to regain his footing among seniors.

Phil: If what you are saying is that the Michaud campaign will do everything they can to manipulate LePage’s words in order to gain advantage, then I agree with you. And to that end, I think LePage is doing well in his response.

Ethan: I will give him this much, he certainly isn’t a shrinking violet. As they say in politics, “When your opponent punches you, respond by putting your fist down his throat.”

Phil: I thought you Democrats were all about peace, love and understanding …

Ethan: Only in policy. How much damage do you think Le-Page’s team has done, and do you think he has mitigated it?

Phil: I do. He has tattooed his stance on Social Security everywhere and can now highlight his promise to eliminate taxes on seniors’ retirement incomes.

Ethan: Give me a break. LePage has had four years to eliminate taxes on retirement income and he didn’t do it. In fact, according to his own finance chief, LePage actually reduced retiree benefits when he passed his tax cuts for the wealthy.

Phil: You mean those same tax cuts that Democratic leadership supported?

Ethan: Why do you always have to bring that up?

Phil: For the same reason that I bring up Michaud’s willingness to tax Social Security. Because it is true.

Ethan: But it isn’t true. Michaud has been a staunch supporter of protecting Social Security and has been on the front lines of keeping your party from privatizing it in Congress.

Phil: So, does that mean I should add taxing Mainers’ Social Security to Michaud’s ever-growing list of his “that-that-was-then-this-is-now” positions? It can go right along with flipping his previous anti-abortion and anti-gay rights votes when in the Maine Legislature. Nothing to see here.

Ethan: You really are having trouble getting out of the 20th century. I’ll take the past decade of Michaud’s votes on these issues over those taken back when rotary phones were all the rage.

Phil: By the way, did you notice how well I changed the subject from where you started?

Ethan: Karl would be proud.