Every morning I have a big glass of news with breakfast and then snack throughout the day. It’s a lifelong habit learned from watching the incomparable Walter Cronkite every night with my folks. Now I watch with our 8-year-old. I’m not sure if he got the bug from me or just from being restlessly curious about everything happening in the world. One night, at dinner, he said, “Can we watch the news tonight?”, and we haven’t stopped since.
It’s not easy watching the news these days with an 8-year-old. You have to keep the remote handy and be prepared for lots of questions, because the news can be both complicated and, at times, inappropriate. But at least the national news always ends with an uplifting example of people doing the right thing for the world.
A few days back, Brian Williams led off a story about a fight in Maine over a new drug that could save victims of overdoses. The Legislature approved making it available to parents and public safety officials, and the governor vetoed it. We don’t often get Maine coverage on the national news, so naturally we both sat up straight, even though I could see that the little guy didn’t know what drugs and overdoses were.
The story made me remember my dear old friend Joel, who was found lifeless one morning in a tenement stairwell, dead from a heroin overdose. He had so much life and love and promise, and it was all suddenly gone, and I still miss him. Joel slowly stumbled toward the cold precipice of drug abuse, staring into the darkness below, and then fell.
Suddenly the screen was filled with the agitated bulldog face of Gov. LePage lambasting the drug as somehow encouraging future drug abuse, as though overdoses are a rational decision that addicts make. Nobody who understands the issue agreed and the NBC reporter quizzing LePage strained to contain both her shock and amusement.
All of which got me to wondering, again, what kind of man would constantly offer hair-brained, fact-free opinions as though they’re settled facts. And just how much damage this governor has done to our national image as a wholesome, small-town state. Some of that damage will go away in November, with a new governor, but some of it will take time to repair.
The little guy wanted to know why every time he sees the governor on TV, he seems to be mad at everyone and against everything. “Is he a bully?,” he asked me. “I don’t know,” I said. “He just feels he’s right about everything and he doesn’t like people who disagree with him.’
Like parents across the state, we’re trying to teach our son how to respect people who are different, even when they disagree with you. We want him to learn that losing an argument, even when you’re right, is better than winning one when you’re wrong. With his teachers and coaches and his larger family, we’re showing him how to settle arguments without calling people names or yelling. But there we were watching our governor wagging his finger, stomping his feet and looking just like the classic bully on the playground.
Whatever part of Maine you live in and whatever your political beliefs, Maine was embarrassed last week on national television, and it wasn’t the first time. As many as 10 million people watched the same news segment, and they are among the most informed and influential of Americans. As anyone who travels the country knows, the damage to Maine’s brand is widespread, as people constantly ask: “What happened in Maine?”
Power does funny things to people. It can make good people rise higher and expose all the internal conflicts that trouble others. For those with anger or emotional issues, power is exactly the drug they — and everyone around them — should most avoid.
I didn’t want to say it to our son, but the small-town bully has become the state’s embarassment. We may never fully appreciate the damage that LePage has done to Maine’s brand until after this circus has left town and we can tackle the barn’s stalls with strong shovels and firm brooms.
LePage may be a good person, as some of my friends say. But he seems to have gotten stuck in some distant anger from his past. Until that changes in November, it’s probably best to keep your hands on the remote when the kids are around.
Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization working to promote Maine’s next economy and the co-author of an upcoming book called Maine’s Next Economy. He can be reached at: [email protected]