Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss differences and similarities in recent speeches by Gov. Paul LePage and President Barack Obama.

Phil: Two men. Two speeches. LePage gave his inaugural about two weeks ago, and President Obama gave his State of the Union last week. You see any similarities?

Ethan: I did indeed. Two men with nothing left to lose advocating a strong vision for what they want to accomplish. While the agendas couldn’t have been more different, both pulled no punches and clearly felt empowered to forge ahead.

Phil: Except LePage had a reason to forge. He just won an unexpected re-election by an unprecedented number of votes, and Republicans rode his coattails back into power in the state Senate. Obama, on the other hand, just got “shellacked” (again!) and should have been a bit more conciliatory.

Ethan: You forget that Democrats also were swept back into power in the state House of Representatives. While LePage tried to pretend that the Democrats weren’t there, he will be sadly mistaken if he keeps that attitude.

Phil: You mean the same way Obama tried to pretend Republicans weren’t there?

Ethan: I think Obama actually did a good job acknowledging that Congress changed hands. He spent 15 minutes of his speech talking about compromise and bipartisanship. That’s 15 minutes more than LePage.

Phil: Compromise and bipartisanship? He recycled a speech from seven years ago (which he failed to implement, I might add), right after he laid out a tax-and-spend agenda that he knows Republicans won’t support.

Ethan: You mean like the slash-and-burn agenda LePage proposed that he knows Democrats won’t support? Boy, the similarities are getting stronger by the minute. I think both men decided to use their address to put a stake in the ground of where they will begin negotiations. Interestingly, the centerpiece of each speech was taxes.

Phil: Yeah, Obama wants to raise ’em and LePage wants to cut ’em.

Ethan: More like Obama wants to cut ’em for the middle class and LePage wants to raise ’em for the middle class.

Phil: No, LePage wants to cut taxes for everybody and reduce the size of state government by $300 million, while Obama wants to raise taxes on the job creators and grow the size of the federal government by $85 billion. With a “B”!

Ethan: He wants to slow the widening income gap that is on the verge of tearing this country apart. Do you realize that wages for middle-income families have basically stagnated over the past 30 years, while the wealthiest have seen unprecedented gains?

Phil: I do, which is why LePage proposed lower income taxes and taxing consumer spending more equally so we can attract good-paying jobs. As Obama opined regarding Cuba, “after 50 years, we need to admit it hasn’t worked.”

Ethan: Yes, 50 years of using trickle-down economics has failed us. And while I am pleased that you think LePage has proposed his plan to reduce the income gap, I am fearful it will actually make the problem worse. But what we do know is that Obama’s plan will definitely close the gap. It taxes those who have it and gives it to those who need it.

Phil: Didn’t you used to have a bumper sticker that said “Robin Hood was right”?

Ethan: I did indeed. He was right then, and he is right today.

Phil: But don’t you think Obama turned his back on voter sentiment and doubled down on liberal policies that were rejected, while LePage simply carried voter sentiment into his first day?

Ethan: Rejected? Like LePage, I think Obama has determined he only has a few years left in office and it is time to push for what he believes in. Things like child care, community college, paid sick leave, a sane immigration policy and a fairer tax code. Those issues have not been rejected by the middle class who understands that decent wages could propel America back to prosperity.

Phil: I don’t think that what’s the voters told him at the ballot box last November.

Ethan: He wasn’t on the ballot last November. But do you think voters elected LePage to rail against municipal government, school administrators, the president of the community college system, and wind and solar power generators? Of course not. But he is in charge and that is his prerogative. Just like it is Obama’s.

Phil: I am not interested in what may or may not be someone’s prerogative. I am interested in what is best for our state and country. I don’t think two years of stalemate between Obama and Congress is good for our country.

Ethan: And neither will two years of stalemate between LePage and the Legislature (two more years, I should say). But I don’t fault either leader for putting his agenda and vision on the table in forceful terms.

Phil: Fair enough. Want to wager on who will veto more bills?

Ethan: No, but I’ll wager that Democrats will vote to compromise with LePage way more than Republicans will vote to compromise with Obama.

Phil: That’s because supporting Obama’s agenda isn’t what swept Republicans into complete control of Congress.

Ethan: I think I just won the bet.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.


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