Much has been written about a political mailer from the left-wing Maine People’s Alliance that included material offensive to Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, who has been in a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident some years ago. Mike Tipping, communications director for the liberal advocacy group, has apologized and explained the incident, but the Maine People’s Alliance has yet to come clean.
As soon as he was called on it, Tipping got right out there, claiming that it was a “mistake” to send out a cookie-cutter flier directed at all those who voted against medical welfare expansion. But the Crafts piece was different from the rest: Crafts “failed to stand up to Gov. LePage’s bullying,” it read, while other fliers from the campaign simply attacked Republican legislators who “failed to stand up to Gov. LePage.”
Why has Tipping not explained why the flier specifically directed at Crafts was tweaked to make it slightly less literal? Did he know it was tasteless and offensive?
Tipping’s explanation is evasive at best and accepts no blame. He wrote last week in his BDN blog, “It started with an unfortunate oversight. A flier was distributed by MPA volunteers in districts across the state represented by Republicans who voted against accepting federal funding for health care expansion.” A flier was distributed? Mistakes were made. Sounds familiar. Is Tipping responsible? If not, who is?
Then he writes, “Last week, as soon as folks at MPA realized that the flier could be misinterpreted, we called Rep. Crafts to apologize for the inadvertent offense and he graciously accepted.” Is he telling us that “folks” at MPA did not anticipate the offense when they put out the altered flier regarding Crafts? Notice again, nobody is answerable, nobody is to blame. The language is all in passive voice, and it’s evasive.
So what are we to believe? Our choices come down to believing the Maine People’s Alliance political operation is incompetently organized and that materials routinely leave the office without the necessary approval, or that Tipping isn’t telling the truth. Either way, someone isn’t taking responsibility, and un-named others are being blamed.
Hats off to a few Democratic legislators who distanced themselves from this crew. Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, and Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, sent an email to several House Democrats asking them to “be willing to speak out when we see injustice in campaigning.”
Are Jones and Harlow part of the “right-wing outrage machine” Tipping claimed was behind the criticism of his group’s blunder?
Jones had it right when he said, “This just fuels the fire with divisiveness and vitriol.”
The Maine People’s Alliance attack is really part of a much larger conversation on political decorum, or lack thereof. Conventional wisdom says going negative works, no matter what voters might otherwise own up to. But it seems like incivility is getting worse, reflecting the general degradation in standards we’ve come to accept as ho-hum and commonplace.
In his second inaugural speech, President Obama stated, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” But as flowery as his little talk was, this was a typically hypocritical case of “do as I say, not as I do.” The caustic, polarizing rhetoric continues to flow right from the top to the minions below.
While politicians huddle to come up with the next scurrilous thing they can hurl against their opponents, their constituents are not amused. A 2010 study from the Allegheny College Center for Political Participation found that 95 percent of Americans thought civility was important for governing, and nearly 50 percent thought that civility has declined since Obama took office in 2009.
Why is this happening? Well, according to a Pew Research Centerpoll, the gap between Republicans and Democrats on major issues has risen from 11 percent to 18 percent in the last decade. And nowhere is this divide reflected as clearly as it is on Capitol Hill. In fact, desperate politicians seem only too happy to fan the flames of divisive politics to suit their purposes — especially handy when they run out of true political arguments.
But, then, maybe there’s hope.
Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to the House floor in 2011 to accompany then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to cast her vote in a contentious debt limit battle. While on the floor, Biden was seen hugging conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was, at the time, a candidate for president.
When quizzed about this, Biden, a longtime senator, said, “You know, the thing that sometimes gets lost in this place — maybe I spent too much time in the Senate — is there is a basic humanity here, man. It matters between people. I know that sounds corny.”
Well, yes, it does. But it also sounds encouraging.