It’s surely just an odd coincidence, the interesting juxtaposition of back-to-back speeches that will occur on Tuesday night when the governor of Maine delivers his State of the State speech in Augusta right before the president of the United States serves up his State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.

It’s possible, we suppose, that these politically savvy chief executives deliberately scheduled their speeches on the same night for the purpose of upstaging each other’s message. But, as high profile a figure Gov. Paul LePage might be, it’s hard to imagine that he occupies a prominent position on the president’s radar screen.

As for LePage, we’re guessing he could give a hoot about anything Barack Obama says or does. Didn’t the guv once threaten to tell the president to “go to hell?”

So, more than likely, the two speechmakers’ schedules just happened to collide.

At first glance, mentioning LePage and Obama in the same breath might seem like a stretch. They have virtually nothing in common.

Obama is a liberal Democrat. LePage is a conservative Republican. Obama is renowned for his inspiring speeches and soaring rhetoric. LePage can command a room when he speaks, but “eloquent” is not an adjective that routinely shows up in front of his name.

And yet, in one way at least, these two vastly different leaders are disturbingly similar. They both adhere to a political philosophy that has nothing to do with ideology or party affiliation: Divide and conquer.

Both Obama and LePage, either for self-serving political advantage or because each actually believes it will help him advance his policy agenda, approach the task of leadership by pitting classes of constituents with divergent needs and interests against each other. And, for both the governor and the president, the favorite groups to mobilize in this campaign of contentiousness are those citizens best described as the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Attacks on Americans who have committed the atrocity of affluence flow freely from the president, while LePage can always summon up a passionate denunciation of the welfare class.

In this game of rich vs. poor, Obama demonizes those who have climbed the ladder of success; LePage aims his wrath at those for whom the bottom rung of the ladder is hopelessly out of reach.

The nation’s economic problems would be solved, Obama insists, if only the wealthy would ante up more of their income in the form of taxes. Maine’s financial woes, LePage relentlessly reminds us, are in large part the result of overdependence on government assistance by clients of state-subsidized benefits who really should look out for themselves.

And those rich folks who raise Obama’s ire by not paying enough taxes? LePage says they’re paying too much.

We come to you today not to declare which of these views is correct, if either is, or even to offer a judgment about which is closer to the truth.

The purpose of this discussion is to make the point that such divisive rhetoric by elected officials who are expected to unite us in pursuit of the common good is destructive to the interests of all the people these officials were elected to serve.

Our hope is that LePage and Obama will seize the opportunity offered by their same-day speeches to reach out to those they have identified as the enemy — to acknowledge the shared goals and aspirations of all Americans, all Mainers.

But hope is not expectation. What we expect is another round of “us vs. them.” And that’s discouraging — for “us” and for “them.”


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