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Libby Mitchell: The Virtues of Experience The race for the Blaine House may have five candidates, but voters have essentially two choices. Libby Mitchell and her four opponents embody two distinct American personalities. We might characterize one as the America of the Pilgrims, which knows that thriving communities are a product of collaboration and collective sacrifice and that democratic societies function because of the covenant between citizens and the governments they forge. Mitchell typifies this America, which revels in the fact that the United States is a country of laws and institutions, and that our greatest works are those we achieve when bound in common purpose for the common good. For those who identify with this America and this Maine, government is not an alien force intent on depriving people of their rights and freedoms, and the choice of devoting one¶s professional life to public service is something to honor and celebrate, not ridicule and smear. Yet among the most persistent criticisms made of Mitchell is that she has made a career in government²not her actual votes, positions or proposals, just the fact that she knows her way around Augusta. In this through-the-looking-glass view of Maine politics, she would be better positioned to be governor had she spent the last thirty years doing anything except mastering the intricacies of state government. That this is so is due to Americans¶ ready identification with the mysterious and utterly fictional outsider²Shane, Dirty Harry, the ³rugged individual´ popularized by Herbert ³Great Depression´ Hoover²who stands up for the little guy by doing what is right when ordinary institutions cannot. This is the personality of American exceptionalism. Different though their platforms may be, Eliot Cutler, Paul LePage, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott look in the mirror and see an exceptional man who through sheer force of will²and more or less cash from corporations, political parties and other special interests²will stride boldly in from the wilds of private life to remake the government in his image. For these men, all problems in Maine government have obvious solutions that elected officials cannot or will not grasp. A lack of political experience is not a shortcoming because what is really needed are their bold, new ideas, which they will deftly swap for the two centuries¶ worth of bold, new ideas their predecessors have left on the table. It would be misleading to suggest that the men running for governor lack any political experience or public service (what a coincidence, though, that none is a veteran), but the impression they wish to convey is that they are outsiders, untainted by politics. The example of Paul LePage is the most convoluted because while he prides himself on his business acumen, he also touts his background as the elected mayor of Maine¶s tenth largest city. But this is a parttime job; the actual administration of Waterville is the work of the city manager. So is he an outsider, or does his part-time insider experience qualify him to be a full-time governor? Further clouding the issue, LePage maintains that he got where he is today in spite of the ³obstacles´ thrown up by ³intrusive government,´ as the Maine Republican Party¶s platform puts it. In the view of LePage and other Tea Party Republicans, government is an obstacle to the strong, a crutch for the weak, a refuge for slackers and a threat to the individual²LePage being one of the exceptional few to have escaped its clutches. What makes LePage¶s pretense to outsider status ridiculous are his declarations that he has never sought the support of the Tea
Paine, ³Libby Mitchell: The Virtues of Experience´ Party. The claim is consistent with his self-image as American hero summoned to the aid of his countrymen, but it simply is not true, and Maine¶s GOP platform, a document which can be charitably described as paranoid, embraces the Tea Party explicitly and without reservation. In the end, the questions are elementary. Do store managers, corporate lawyers, car repairmen, headhunters and indeed most of us with minimal or no political experience really believe we are the people best prepared to run Maine¶s government? Apart from boundless vanity, what qualifies us?
²Lincoln Paine Portland, Maine September 13, 2010