Politics

November 6, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Revelation for Michaud, evolution for Maine

The candidate’s coming-out wasn’t a big deal for many, showing how much views have changed since that famous ‘Seinfeld’ episode.

I have the perfect new slogan for Maine’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign: “Mike Michaud for Governor – Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

U.S. Representative Mike Michaud more 3 4 5..

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

The iconic line comes from “The Outing,” a hilarious episode from the fourth season of “Seinfeld” way back in 1993. The plot centers on Jerry Seinfeld’s and sidekick George Costanza’s frantic efforts to dispel a college newspaper reporter’s assumption that they’re gay, repeatedly punctuating their protestations with an exaggerated, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

It was, without a doubt, one excellent and enduring piece of comedy. It was also a sign of the times.

Back then, to even talk about sexual orientation – let alone base a comedy show on it – was still risky business.

Far away from hip Manhattan, in places like northern Maine, you best kept your homosexuality to yourself if you wanted to fit in with the rest of the community. Or, in politician Michaud’s case, if you wanted folks to keep voting for you.

No longer.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Michaud told Portland Press Herald State House Writer Steve Mistler this week. “It’s a personal decision. It’s one I wish I didn’t have to make.”

That’s certainly understandable. With his startling announcement Monday on the op-ed page of this newspaper, Mike Michaud the candidate for governor instantly became Mike Michaud the gay candidate for governor.

And should he succeed in supplanting Republican Gov. Paul LePage one year from now, he could become Mike Michaud the nation’s first openly gay governor.

Still, as Michaud himself asked in his carefully choreographed coming-out announcement, “Why should it matter?”

The simple answer is it doesn’t – at least to the large-and-getting-larger segment of Americans who grow more accepting by the day of their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors. With emphasis, it should be noted, on the word “neighbors.”

Back in 1993, right around the time that famous “Seinfeld” episode aired, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans had a gay or lesbian acquaintance. Twenty years later, in a poll released in June by the Pew Research Center, that number had skyrocketed to 87 percent.

What’s more, 23 percent of the Pew respondents said they know “a lot” of gay or lesbian people, and 49 percent said a family member or one of their close friends is gay or lesbian.

Put more simply, more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are out there (literally) today than ever before. And as their visibility has increased, so has the social pendulum swung from taboo to tolerance, from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to “what’s the big deal?”

Thus what is most notable about the tsunami of reaction to Michaud’s announcement is not the risk he took in confirming what has long been grist for Maine’s political gossip mill. Rather, it’s the consensus – bordering on a statewide yawn – that this is nowhere near the big deal it would have been back when Jerry and George were having their politically correct nervous breakdowns over simply being perceived as gay.

Think about it, folks. If Maine can be the first state to legalize same-sex marriage at the polls, why in the world can’t we be first to elect an openly gay governor?

And while there surely are those scattered among us who fervently believe Michaud just punched his ticket to eternal damnation, their voices are noticeably absent from the quiet applause now rippling from Portland all the way to Presque Isle.

Matt McTighe, who ran the same-sex marriage effort and now is Michaud’s campaign manager, sees it not only as an evolution for Maine, but for Michaud himself.

(Continued on page 2)

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