Maine’s right-wing outrage machine

MPA staff in the Portland office indoctrinate the group's newest members into the radical cabal (yes, I now take any opportunity to post photos of my kids).

MPA staff in the Portland office indoctrinate the group’s newest members into their radical cabal (yes, I now take any opportunity to post photos of my kids).

Over the past few days, the conservative right in Maine has targeted the Maine People’s Alliance (for which I work as communications director) with a fascinating, coordinated attack.

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. The half-page photocopy faulted them for not “standing up” to Governor LePage and for denying health care access to 70,000 Mainers. The flier, modeled as a fake prescription slip, accused them of lacking in “heart” and “spine” for failing to accept the federal funds. It was perhaps a bit simplistic (this kind of political communication usually is) but well within the bounds of political propriety.

The problem came when one of the districts included in the effort happened to be that of Representative Dale Crafts, who has a disability that requires the use of a wheelchair. Read a certain way, the “standing up” metaphor could have a different and unfortunate implication in his district.

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.

It was already off to the races for the Maine Republican Party, the Maine Heritage Policy Center and House and Senate Republicans, however, who even after the apology and clarification continued to issue a flurry of releases, emails and tweets falsely implying and, in some cases, outright accusing MPA of deliberately attacking Crafts based on his disability.

The media has been relatively good about covering the issue and, except for a few partisan sources, has been quick to point out the circumstances of the flier. They’ve even devoted some coverage to the actual issue – the human suffering and economic damage that will result from the Republican blockade of federal health care funding.

Perhaps surprisingly based on its reputation, talk radio in Maine had been particularly good at handling the issue. I spoke with the morning show hosts on WGAN, WVOM and WZON in recent days and all did a good job of putting things in context. In fact, once they realized the flier was not an attack on Crafts’ disability, the conservative hosts I talked to seemed particularly annoyed to have been misled by their fellow partisans.

Perhaps finally realizing that MPA is not on the ballot and that continuing the attacks allowed us to continue talking about health care, Republicans switched tactics this week and the Maine GOP sent a release attacking Congressman Mike Michaud for working with MPA. They provided a list of five supposed offenses which they claimed proved MPA was a “radical” organization from which he should distance himself.

The list is, to put it mildly, hilarious. Some of what they claim never happened and even the bits that have some basis in reality are twisted far out of context. The top item on the list – and I am not making this up – is that someone who volunteered for MPA was also once rude to a Greyhound employee.

The strangest thing about the right-wing attacks (although perhaps we should be used to this by now) is the complete lack of any sense of history, irony or self-awareness. For every supposed speck they worry about in MPA’s eye, there are a legion of logs in their own.

Maine GOP Chair Rick Bennet may bemoan the “stand up” flier, but this is the guy who (quite deliberately, rather than inadvertently) sent a mailer attacking the nationality of a candidate he opposed who was born in Britain. It featured a photo of Prince Charles and his then-girlfriend and claimed that the Democratic candidate thinks its “okay to lie about adultery.”

In their release, the Maine GOP continues to attack MPA for the actions of a young canvasser who stole $32 and was immediately fired, but their own Treasurer, Philip Roy, embezzled thousands of dollars. Rather than firing him, the Party covered it up.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center may now fault MPA for having a volunteer who once got angry when he was shortchanged at a bus station, but this is the organization that hired a well-documented white supremacist to run their news wire. His work still appears on their site, although his byline has been removed.

If the conservative right in Maine had to adhere to anything approaching their apparent standards for others, every moment of their time would have to be spent denouncing one another and they would all have to leave the state entirely in order to distance themselves enough from the list of offensive actions taken by Governor Paul LePage.

I hope that Maine’s media takes notice of this new standard from the right, especially as LePage shifts into campaign mode.

MPA has been around for 30 years, it has employed hundreds of staff and involved thousands of volunteers in dozens of issue campaigns. If these picayune complaints are the best they can come up with, I’d say we’re doing pretty well. The volume of vitriol spewed by the right should be considered a badge of honor and the surest sign that our work is effective.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald