January 8, 2013

MIKE TIPPING: Maybe he's not really governor, but just plays one on YouTube

Mike Tipping

Gov. Paul LePage hasn't held a press conference in six months and almost always refuses interview requests with reporters. But don't worry; he still has a way to get his message across.

LePage has begun releasing a series of YouTube videos. In the latest, he sits across from communications director Adrienne Bennett, who isn't identified in the video, and gives scripted answers to a series of softball questions that she poses as if she were a real reporter.

The point of the video is to try to spin LePage's tax cuts (which predominantly benefit the wealthy and could result in the defunding of vital health care and education programs) as being a model of fiscal responsibility.

The first question Bennett asks is (and I am not making this up) "Governor, during the 125th Legislature, you led the way to reduce the tax burden on Mainers, so congratulations on that! In fact, it's the largest tax cut in Maine's history. How is it that right now you're getting push back from Democrats, in particular, about putting more money back into the pockets of Mainers?"

LePage's answers to the questions are stilted and he recites them as if they've either been carefully memorized or are being read off nearby cue-cards.

Now, some might say that this is a crass and transparent attempt to avoid answering real questions from real journalists, but I disagree. I think it's great. We'll finally get some answers to the questions that real reporters are too biased to ask!

I've taken the liberty of drafting a list of similar questions that a fake reporter can ask the governor in his next video:

Question 1: "Governor LePage, first let me say congratulations on being so awesome all the time. Under your income tax cuts, the top 1 percent of income earners (those making more than $356,608 per year) will receive an average tax cut of $2,905, while the bottom 20 percent will receive a tax cut of just $9, (and many will actually see their taxes increase). So, my question is, which phrase would best describe these policies? Please choose between 'eminently fair and well-reasoned' or 'bold and Reaganesque.'"

Question 2: "As the first bills for your tax cuts are coming due, you have wisely and magnanimously suggested that we pay for the budget shortfall by cutting funding for local schools, services for the elderly and foster care. Where did you find the strength and courage to finally put those lazy, free-loading orphans in their place?"

Question 3: "One part of your fair and balanced tax breaks, the estate tax cut, will mean $51 million over the next two years will go to just around 550 super-wealthy families. Obviously these people deserve this government assistance, but what is it about them that makes them so deserving? Could it be that, like yourself, they smell incredibly good, like fresh-baked ginger snaps?"

Question 4: "Obviously you have some special, perhaps magical, powers in order to sit here and deny basic mathematical concepts and political realities. Are you, in fact, a wizard? Can you introduce me to Harry Potter?"

The questions don't even have to be about taxes. Here's one on another recent hot-button issue:

Question 5: "Governor Awesome, your Department of Environmental Protection has just recommended that the chemical bisphenol A not be banned from infant formula and baby food containers, despite overwhelming public and legislative support for such protections. Can you tell us more about your plans to bring jobs to the state by focusing on a bearded-women-based economy?"

And why should the LePage administration stop with replacing real press interactions with these fake interviews? There are a dozen other ways that they could apply the same principles.

For instance, LePage refuses to meet with the new Democratic leaders in the Legislature. Well, why not just have actors step in to play these parts as well? LePage can pretend that he's actually doing his job as the state's chief executive and the House speaker and Senate president won't actually have to listen to his bluster and insults. Everyone wins!

Eventually, LePage can replace all the functions of the executive branch with easier and more predictable alternatives. During staff meetings, for instance, the roles of his commissioners can be played by puppets.

The governor will be more comfortable once his daily reality is replaced with a more Nerf-like version of the world and the rest of us will be safer with a protective buffer of unreality between us and his ideas.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People's Alliance and the Maine People's Resource Center. He's @miketipping on Twitter. Email to writebacktomike@gmail.com

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