It’s disappointing. And it’s not good political strategy.
That was the bottom-line reaction — aside from astonished gasps — from a wide range of both supporters and opponents of Gov. Paul LePage, following his characterization of Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash as a legislator who “claims to be for the people but … is the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”
In Thursday’s dustup over the budget, LePage further excoriated Jackson by adding, “He is bad. He has no brains, and he has a black heart.”
“It’s wrong,” said Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League in Augusta.
“I cannot condone language that is demeaning or frankly vulgar,” said Conley, who heads up the nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization founded in 1897. “There is no place (for) that type of dialogue. I’m disappointed.”
Rob McIlwaine, administrator of Cornerstone Baptist Academy in Scarborough agreed.
“It’s an inappropriate statement — inappropriate for anyone to make, let alone from someone in leadership,” he said. “And I would consider myself to be a Republican generally. I would line up with many of the governor’s positions.
“But even to those we consider our enemies … our speech should be seasoned with grace. It should build up and not tear down,” McIlwaine said. And disagreements need not deteriorate into personal attacks.
“It’s a bad example,” said Conley. “And it just doesn’t accomplish anything. It just doesn’t work.”
“I think good relationships are built on kindness, mutual respect and consideration for others,” said Paul Silverman, a clinical psychotherapist from Waterville, who works with young children, teens and adults, individually and with other family members.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said. But not every tactic in a disagreement or debate is acceptable — or effective.
“Reason is much better; compassion is much better,” said Silverman, who said he tries to offer guidance that helps keep discussions of differences on an even keel. The key, he said, is to create an atmosphere and cultivate skills that help people to interact in calm ways.
“If you use harsh words … this doesn’t seem to be the best consensus approach,” Silverman said. “It’s not really the best politics.
“The larger question is what does one need to be productive and to be a successful problem solver?” Silverman said. “I don’t think that anger serves anyone during difficult economic times.”
Bitter words spoken during harsh political squabbles also may leave impressions beyond the Legislature and outside Augusta, many public officials said, though most did not want to comment on the record.
“I don’t think anger serves anyone during difficult economic times,” Silverman said.
Across the board, everyone emphasized that LePage’s words — replayed and discussed in the media — would be witnessed by children. And by their parents, who may be asked to explain the sense — and sting — of the governor’s words.
One simple message, said Conley, is to communicate to children that even when people have opposing ideas, it is best to agree to disagree rather than to become disrespectful.
“You want them to be kind,” Silverman said. “And not to insult people, not to be mean.”
A parent might even point out one hidden benefit in rational disagreement, he said. “You might learn something from someone else … if that respect piece is there.”
And, if all else fails, Silverman said, there is a simple rule almost everyone can use to great advantage: “You can also choose to say nothing.”