State of Maine: Beware political hot air

By Jill Goldthwait

With an abundance of candidates already in the 2020 elections, voters will need a way to winnow the field. Objective criteria for candidate selection are sorely lacking. It tends to be more about who’s telegenic and entertaining than it is about who will lead this complex, troubled country to higher ground.

In the field of medicine, measurable parameters are relied on to determine health and well-being. Is it possible to apply some of the same measurements to determine the political fitness of a candidate?

Height and weight, pulse and blood pressure are important, of course. Anyone who undertakes the grueling ordeal of a campaign, not to mention the demands of serving in elected office, must be reasonably fit. But for this assessment we must rely on the candidates themselves and we cannot be sure that what we hear from them is accurate.

Witness the 2015 letter describing our current President’s health as “astonishingly excellent,” declaring him the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” That is not customary medical jargon, and the physician in question later asserted that his patient had “dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter.”

Perhaps a better measure is the Glasgow Coma Scale. This one you can apply yourself. It is a way to assess a person’s level of consciousness, providing a simple numerical rating for three categories. In a crowded field it is best not to take anything for granted.

First is the eye-opening response. Are the candidate’s eyes open? Blinking? Does the candidate open his eyes on command, or only when pain is applied? The lowest score, one point, is awarded if the candidate does not open his eyes at all.

How about verbal response? The Glasgow Coma Scale would give five points if the candidate is oriented, four if he or she can engage in confused conversation but can answer questions, three for inappropriate words, two for incomprehensible speech, and awards one point even if there is no response.

Last is motor response. Does the candidate obey commands, such as “Time is up?” Does he or she respond to painful stimuli? Withdraw in response to pain? Not respond at all? The lower the score, the greater the possibility that the candidate is in a coma from which he or she might not awaken.

Another useful tool is the Beaufort Scale, a method of measuring wind speed through observation rather than instrumentation. There is one scale to be used at sea and another on shore, the latter being adaptable to the immediate area around political candidates in a debate.

If the candidate is calm, smoke rises vertically. This is not to suggest proximity to fire, but rather to allow you to picture in your mind’s eye whether at that particular moment smoke, if there were any, would rise vertically. With the first stirrings of agitation, wind motion would be visible in smoke.

As candidate agitation increases leaves would rustle, then small twigs would be set in motion, dust and loose paper raised and small branches would begin to move. Next, viewers would notice whistling in overhead wires. Umbrella use becomes difficult. Empty plastic trash cans would tip over.

When real trouble is brewing whole trees are in motion and swaying of skyscrapers can be felt, large branches break off and there is damage to circus tents and canopies. Roof shingles may be damaged or blow off and there is widespread damage to vegetation. When a candidate has become completely unglued, windows are broken and there is structural damage to poorly constructed sheds and barn. The Beaufort Scale concludes with this warning: “Debris may be hurled about.” Indeed.

There are other scales that could be tailored to political rhetoric. The Fujita Scale for tornadoes. The Richter scale for earthquakes and “other sudden energy releases.” The Scoville Scale for Pungency and Piquancy, which measures the hotness of zingerone (cooked ginger) and capsaicin in peppers. In Aztec, the adjectives for ascending levels of pepper hotness are coco, cocopatic, cocopetzpatic, cocopetztic, copetzquauitl and cocopalatic. The last and hottest of these is also known as “Elizabeth Warren.”

We could create our own, Maine-centric scale to rate candidates. It would start at “Yawn,” progress to “Martha, I Could Use a Beverage” (for contenders who are psychics, mermaids or men wearing boots on their heads, all real candidates), proceed to “Geez Louise” and peak at “Finest Kind.”

We will be assaulted on the subject from every direction for the next 15 months. It has already begun. However we decide who we will support in this vast pool of candidates, we will likely all fall into the same category when it is over: Sick and tired of the whole hot mess.

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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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