Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Recently I had the opportunity to attend three political gatherings each speaking volumes about civility’s fundamental importance to our democratic freedom.

One was a Bonkers for Bernie event to spur activism in his campaign and to introduce the uninitiated to the then upcoming Democratic caucus process. Though well attended, the mock enactment that took place was more like a true small town traditional caucus of years past then the actual caucus would turn out to be.

The real caucus, because of its overflow turnout, was forced to become sort of a more transparent impromptu primary format. There was some nominal presentation of candidate differences and some debate exchanged among participants, but mostly it was a matter of maintaining an orderly headcount for delegate assignment. The major difference between it and a primary was that one’s candidate selection was necessarily publicly declared, naked for all one’s friends and neighbors to witness. Seeing whom sided with one’s own choice, and who differed, was repeatedly surprising. Seeing such an overwhelming majority immediately opt for Sanders over Clinton brought forth a boastfully victorious partisan chant of “Feel the Bern!” Yet, everyone’s conduct remained patient and civil, party unity prevailed, community spirit was shared and democracy was demonstrated to be very much alive and well.

The previous weekend’s simulated caucus was of course stacked for Sanders, and the ace of spades in rallying the troops came in the form of a low keyed yet very impassioned speech given by former state senator Troy Jackson whom had delivered opening remarks at Portland’s massive Bernie rally in July. Anyone who has experienced Jackson’s quietly powerful oratory knows of its unquestionably heartfelt straight from the-shoulder authenticity. His is an openly populist message that rings out with solidarity for those downtrodden and marginalized.

Bringing home Sanders’ call for socioeconomic justice, Jackson told a haunting anecdote from his youth about the unjust advantage exercised by the haves over the have nots. In order to redress unfair treatment, his father and fellow loggers staged a labor protest on their day off work. Jackson vividly recalled watching from behind his dad’s legs as the owner of the company roared up in a huge car and summarily dismissed all grievances by threatening that all those not at work on Monday, and accepting of the status quo, would be immediately fired and their positions filled by Canadian replacements. Discussion over. No give-and-take. None.

Following that Capraesque tale of autocratic power, Jackson then segued to how he had been famously characterized by Governor LePage as someone who “claims to be for the people but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.” The poignancy of his father’s belittlement still resonating in the room, Jackson, without any trace of rancor, simply remarked that he’s known bullies all his life.

Hearing that Gov. LePage was to speak at Morse High, and having only the media’s reportage of his claim of a media conspiracy against him to go by, I looked forward to encountering Paul LePage live, up-close and unfiltered. Arriving early, I had plenty of time to observe those trickling in and eventually filling the auditorium. Unlike the Bonkers for Bernie venue, those present betrayed no discernible political leaning. Aside from disruptive political theater demonizing LePage, or obviously pointed questions and the occasional applause from some, it remained unclear as to where the audience positioned itself.

It was totally clear as to where LePage positioned himself.

He could do great things for Maine but was conspired against by a socialist legislature and a duplicitous press corps sitting directly in front of him taking notes. Any and all opposition to his personal political agenda was not to be negotiated with. At one point he even displayed make-believe wanted posters identifying individuals on his perceived enemies list.

Though purportedly an opportunity for public dialog orchestrated by his office, he petulantly threatened to curtail the event if open hostility to his governance continued. Throughout his opening presentation and the Q&A, he repeatedly displayed his equating of combativeness with actual leadership. When asked what he might have done differently his reply was that he would not have run for governorship, exactly because of what he was encountering from those present.

The most memorably perplexing takeaway from his continually hostile exchange came when someone asked what the solution might be to the corrosive partisanship besieging Washington. LePage answered that the only way to successfully govern is from the middle.

Guarded and defensive throughout, LePage offensively argued that he doesn’t hate the underclass, but knows from personal experience that self-advancement comes from the welfare only hard work can provide. He then told of how his own life had been turned around by a wealthy benefactor providing employment, not charity.

That story was the most human exchange of the evening, but its blinkered “I managed it so everyone can” rationale failed to uplift an overall darkly dispiriting exchange which sadly brought to mind the thought that what he would really like to do is rule a Maine where he could simply fire everyone opposed to him.


Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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