Everybody makes mistakes, and politicians are no different. What separates some of them from the rest of us is that they can’t seem to bring themselves to admit an error — let alone apologize to anyone — unless their career is on the line.

That’s what’s happening now with Paul LePage and Stephen King. The governor made a mistake when he said that King doesn’t pay his taxes in Maine because he moved to Florida.

King and his wife, Tabitha, live in Bangor, paid $1.4 million in state taxes last year and gave another $5 million to charity. Not exactly the kind of people we want to drive out of Maine with insults.

These kinds of mistakes happen in the heat of political arguments. What makes this noteworthy is not that LePage was in error, but his subsequent silence and refusal to apologize. Saying that you’ve made a mistake, and apologizing to anyone whom you’ve injured, is a sign of both strength and character. Refusing to apologize displays a weakness on both counts.

Of course, playing loose with the facts is a well-known characteristic of this governor. How many times, over his term of office, has LePage gotten his facts wrong, misspoke, falsely accused someone or simply said something that turned out to be false? More than this space can accommodate.

LePage once claimed, for instance, that 47 percent of able-bodied Mainers don’t work. He told us that he hadn’t met with members of a radical right-wing militia, claimed that he’d conducted black fly studies, said he’d never vetoed a bill to fund nursing homes and denied that he’d ever said that Social Security was welfare. Every one of those claims was easily refuted by the facts.

But how many times has the governor apologized for his mistakes, or for unjust attacks on people who deserved better? As near as I can tell, the answer is zero.

In trying to understand how a governor can be so error-prone, I’ve concluded that his errant statements come in three different varieties.

• The first is the product of carelessness, when he offers an off-the-cuff comment about something he knows little to nothing about. His famous statement about women growing beards if they were exposed to certain chemicals comes to mind, as do his comments about climate change, renewable energy and how the economy grows.

• Other slip-ups come from things he’s heard in the echo chamber of conservative talk-show politics that he believes are true, but that don’t survive long in fresh air and light.

• Finally, there are those times when he simply says something to make a point.

In the end, and for whatever reason these errors came out of his mouth, they all boil down to what historians might call “lies, damn lies and politics.”

LePage seems to enjoy life in the fact-free bubble of ideological politics, which has its own definition of what reality is. It’s a world of compelling narratives about big government, destructive taxes, slackers and liberals, all arrayed against patriotic conservatives who are saving our country. Never mind that those narratives usually contain about an ounce of truth diluted into a barrel full of caustic foam.

It’s a world where facts are things that are said by people who agree with you. Lies are what your enemies believe. And naturally, the preferred attire in that world is always a stunningly simple black and white.

When the governor wandered into attacking Stephen King last week, he was taking on someone who’s a lot more famous (or less infamous, I suppose) than he is. And someone who isn’t afraid to fight back.

In his initial response, King offered one of the great quote lines of the year when he said that LePage is “full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.” A day later, he asked the governor to “man up” and apologize.

I’ll be surprised if that ever happens. People who are on the far fringes of political ideology almost never admit to mistakes — because they can’t. Their entire political persona is built on knowing it all, being infallible and at all times displaying a confident absence of humility.

While the governor won’t man up to offer an apology, let me suggest that we all raise our voices to do it for him, because it’s the right thing to do. We’re sorry, Stephen and Tabitha. You’re great citizens of Maine, and we’re proud to call you neighbors. We appreciate everything that you do for this state.

A governor who cared more about the truth, and Maine, would have said that already.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: