Politics and clowning around

Clowns are not new to public office. Brazil had Tiririca, a clown sporting a blond wig and a tiny orange hat, who got himself elected to Congress in 2010. News reports credited his personal popularity and a “deep anti-political streak that exists in Brazil” for his win.

Once elected, Tiririca applied himself to the task, racking up perfect attendance at legislative sessions and winning a Best Congressman award. But he found that going from clown to congressman wasn’t so funny. “We work so hard, every single day, and nothing happens,” said he. “I can get more done as a clown.” He quit in 2013.

Denmark comedian Jacob Haugaard ran in every parliamentary election from 1979 on, promising better weather, shorter supermarket lines and more tailwinds on bicycle paths. Then in 1994 – oops! – he was elected and served as a member of Parliament for four years. Like Tiririca, he became disillusioned with the realities of elected office and did not run for re-election.

The “clown” label has been waved at candidates here at home at both the national and state levels, but does it apply? Not really. Presidential candidate Donald Trump comes closest to earning the title of clown, except that he is neither as funny nor endearing as a good clown should be.

He is an entertainer, for sure, but it is not good that we have allowed ourselves to become so frustrated with the political status quo that we are willing to consider electing an entertainer as president. President!

Say what you will about the alleged incompetence of your favorite political whipping boy, but you can’t seriously think the job is easy, can you?

Who among us could wake up every morning facing actual responsibility for wars, terrorist attacks, mass murders, poverty, hunger, drug abuse, unemployment, global warming and racial tension and not long for the chance to go back to just clowning around? And are we really so disgusted with government that we are willing to cast our votes out of spite rather than out of a longing for the best that America can be?

In Maine, the word “clown” sometimes has appeared in the same sentence as “governor.” But Paul LePage cannot be dismissed as a clown. Far from it. He is deadly earnest about his aspirations for our state. When it comes to his job as governor, the man has not an ounce of comedy in him.

It is this seriousness of purpose that separates him from the entertainment candidate, but at the same time, he has distinguished himself as being among the most abrasive chief executives our state has seen. There is no shortage of grounds on which to criticize him, from his skating on the edge of the legal and moral (the Eves upending, the bond withholding) to the disrespect with which he has treated the U.S. president, the Maine Senate president, legislators in general and the news media in particular.

Yet one cannot doubt his sincerity in wanting the best for Maine, meaning (as with any politician) the best as he sees it. His single-mindedness in advancing his agenda is enviable and has yielded results. Nor does he give up on those policy proposals that have failed in the State House.

Checkmated by the legislature, he has taken his case on the road. Few governors have held as many open meetings all over the state.

The governor’s own rough edges may prove to be his biggest obstacle to a successful administration. Ultimately, he can accomplish little without the cooperation of the legislature. And as he continues to dismiss them as “children” and “stupid,” their cooperation is reaching the vanishing point.

Instead of playing quarterback as a chief executive should, LePage is rushing, and his defenders are limited to the House Republicans. It’s just not a successful strategy.

If we are sick of the status quo, there must be a better alternative than voting for the most weirdly improbable candidate that presents himself. Electing a clown, an entertainer or a rabble-rouser is not going to produce the government we so desperately need.

Get a grip, people. If you are sick and tired of the usual suspects, how are you going to feel after we elect an ill-prepared leader in a world this unpredictable? It’s a gesture, not a solution.

The state of Nevada has had a “none of these candidates” option on ballots since 1976. So far, that option has not been the voters’ choice, but on a national ballot, it is not hard to picture it happening. Then what? The parties have given us their best. Who do we look to if they fail?

Ranked-choice voting may help. Success has come to the most polarizing candidates when they are in fields larger than two and end up winning with less than half the vote. Ranked-choice voting means someone will reach a majority vote, and that is less likely to be the protest candidate.

Be of good cheer. The days are getting longer. Hoping you had a Happy Hello Kitty Holiday, and wishing you all the best for the New Year.


Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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