With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, it is an opportune time to reflect on the qualities of a leader who was able to transform a generation. The ability to bring sides together, direct the momentum of society, and be a beacon of change are the virtues of the greatest leaders in our country.
When we look at the current leadership in Augusta, we see not a leader with these qualities but, rather, a leader who has the qualities of Big Brother from the novel “1984” by George Orwell. Gov. Paul LePage appears as if he has been thrust from this dystopian novella into a strange and unsecure world without the levers of authoritarianism.
Instead of uniting the state around goals like creating jobs and education reform, LePage unites through a sinister strategy of “War is Peace.” Like Big Brother, it is confusing who the enemy of Maine is this week. Whether it is teachers, young people or the city of Portland, LePage would rather tear down opponents than build support. This might work in the dystopian playbook that LePage is running, but leaders in a democracy overcome insurmountable odds by finding common ground with opposition groups, rather than using fear and intimidation.
Most people were confused when LePage announced he would refuse to speak to some of the biggest newspapers in Maine, but it is, apparently, a part of his “Ignorance is Strength” media policy. In “1984,” the main character works at the state newspaper, which controls the future by changing the past. LePage is frustrated at news outlets for not following this model, including dubious practices like holding him accountable and reporting what he says.
Fittingly, LePage has joked about blowing up the Press Herald Building, a nice touch from our dear leader. But the ignorance campaign does not stop there: Even government officials are not immune to LePage’s reach, as he has forbidden his staff to appear at committee meetings in Augusta. Clearly, government should not only have the press freedom of the Soviet Union but the lack of accountability as well.
Finally, LePage tears a page out of the Kremlin’s playbook, “Freedom is Slavery.” After a bipartisan majority of Maine officials passed privacy laws that required state and local agencies to get a warrant before accessing cell phone communications, LePage vetoed the law. The veto was overridden but not without a full-throated campaign to keep the population under constant surveillance without consent.
When we think of the ideal qualities in a leader, the qualities of Big Brother do not come to mind. Leaders are able to reset the course of society, unite rather than divide, and uplift rather than tear down. Leaders like John F. Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln knew that their own people were not the enemy but rather a source of strength. In the next year before his re-election, we will either see LePage take cues from our greatest leaders and encompass the values of democracy and leadership or fall into a disarray that other authoritarian regimes encounter.