Politics & Other Mistakes: Acid tongue

6 mins read

Watch your mouth.

Without a mirror, this sensible admonition is almost impossible to follow. So, I recommend having one with a swiveling bracket mounted on the side of your head.

A mirror, I mean, not a sensible admonition. I don’t even know where you’d buy a bracket for an admonition. But when it comes to mirrors, a quick visit to a hardware store and a surgical supply outlet, and your skull can be fully accessorized for oral-cavity observation, using only common household tools and a degree from an accredited medical school.

Not only does this viewing device allow you to check for debris in your teeth, it also alerts you if somebody is creeping around behind your back.

Which is likely, particularly if you’re one of those people who misconstrues the federal and state constitutions as granting you some sort of right to free speech. Contrary to popular opinion, the alleged free-speech provisions in our fundamental laws don’t guarantee your liberty to say whatever you want. They merely prevent the government from taxing each ill-considered word.

In a way, that’s too bad. If we had such a levy on talking, we could balance the budget just on the accumulated utterances of advocates on both sides of the same-sex-marriage debate, all of whom seem to be laboring under the delusion that this is the most important issue facing humanity.

But back to those of you inclined to state your opinions on other topics. Surely, it comes as no surprise you’re being monitored for evidence of violations of laws against saying the wrong thing. After all, others who have made the same mistake have already suffered the consequences.

In 2008, John Frary was a highly entertaining but otherwise extraordinarily unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate in Maine’s 2nd District. As such, Frary thought it prudent to run a radio ad in which he attempted to link his opponent with some of the state’s more odious officeholders.

“Three men rule northern Maine,” the ad claimed, “and they’ve all been in power for decades, amassing enormous pensions and salaries and piling up special interest money by the millions to fund their insatiable war chests. John Martin [a former speaker of the House and now a state representative from Eagle Lake], Mike Michaud [Frary’s Democratic opponent] and John Baldacci [a former Bangor city councilor whose whereabouts is currently unknown] are the three amigos of the north Maine woods and while they fiddle, Maine’s economy burns. While they rule, no one’s property is safe. Want change? You’ll have to vote for it.”

After Frary’s landslide loss in November, Martin filed a complaint with the state ethics commission (motto: It Would Go Easier On You If You Just Unscrewed That Mirror From The Side Of Your Head And Shut Up). Martin charged that Frary’s ad was an attempt to defeat him, and therefore, he should have been entitled to additional public campaign financing to combat it.

By the way, Martin was running unopposed.

Frary dismissed the whole matter as the “kind of vapid complaint that tends to inhibit free speech.” He also warned, “It is possible that some day a conniving, bullying blowhard might try to use an ethics complaint to try to inhibit criticism.”

No idea to whom he could be referring.

In January, the commission staff said it was clueless as to whether the state law covering independent expenditures applied to federal candidates. It also worried that using the statute to punish Frary might result in legal proceedings that would thwart future efforts to force people to close their pie holes. The complaint was dropped.

Martin didn’t seem too upset. After all, he’d made his point, which was that if anyone spoke ill of him, his minions – that’s them in the camo gear, lurking behind you – would alert him, after which he’d exert enough pressure to see that no one ever dared do that again.

Martin’s ever-so-subtle message reinforces an October 2008 ethics commission ruling which fined a GOP state Senate candidate from Old Town for referring to several Democratic legislators as part of the “Baldacci Bunch.” (Whoever he is.)

In effect, what the commissioners have said is that’s it’s unacceptable for publicly financed candidates to criticize anyone other than their opponent. And they’ve hinted that if privately funded candidates get too broad in their attacks, they’ll have their heads put in a vise grip, after which the screws holding their swiveling mirrors in place will be tightened in most unpleasant ways.

“American history cautions against governmental regulation of political speech,” the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year in overturning another ethics commission decision to prevent a candidate from saying something. “Absent that caution, in the guise of the most benevolent purposes, an incumbent government could restrict the free flow of information and debate in the public marketplace of ideas.”

Those justices better watch their mouths.

Get mouthy by e-mailing me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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