Calling someone a racist isn’t the worst thing you can do.
Being a racist is much worse.
So is being a homophobe, a bigot, a bully, someone who abuses his or her power or incites violence.
Those are all a lot worse.
Throughout the conflagration that Gov. Paul LePage has brought upon himself and the state, he’s justified his actions by saying that someone else started it, that someone else called him a “racist.” That somehow he’s the victim.
Contemporary LePage is no victim. He’s an instigator and a danger to the state. And he’s proven he’s not fit to govern.
As everyone knows by now, LePage left an obscenity-filled and threatening voicemail for state Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook last week.
LePage, clearly unhinged and just barely hanging onto reality during the call, justified the hate-filled explosion by saying Gattine had called him a racist.
Gattine had done no such thing. Nonetheless, some of the governor’s supporters grabbed for the false equivalency.
Like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, LePage is trying to exploit the media’s desire for balance and turn this argument from one about whether the governor is fit to lead the state (answer: no) and into a political back-and-forth between two politicians.
Early on, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette did his best to feed the idea that both men had somehow acted inappropriately.
“I have concerns of elected officials, whether they’re representatives or governors, calling people, you know, bigots, calling people racists or [saying] I’m going to shoot you between the eyes. Not acceptable in today’s society,” Fredette said, according to Maine Public Broadcasting.
And LePage himself: “I‘m not shying away from what I called him because everything that came out of my mouth, everything I said to that man, is less … is less insulting than being called a racist, in my mind,” LePage said during his botched apology press conference.
Gattine, the obvious target of a crazed threat, was left to deny he’d ever called the governor a racist in the first place.
“I didn’t call the governor a racist, that’s an awful thing to call somebody. I choose my words very carefully,” Gattine said. “I think his comments were racially charged and unhelpful and I stand behind those comments, but I didn’t call him a racist.”
There you have it. A governor leaves a word vomit voicemail that includes a serious threat. He takes it a step further, invoking gun violence — again — by saying he’d like to have a duel with Gattine and that he’d shoot him between the eyes.
And it’s all justified. It’s all OK through LePage’s cracked screen because someone might have called him a racist.
If governor LePage isn’t a racist — and that’s a big “if” — he sure acts like one a lot of the time.
He sees the world through a race-based lens. Drug dealers are only black and Hispanic in LePage’s world, and they come to Maine to kill us and to impregnate white women. People of color are the enemy.
He encourages people to take the law into their own hands and shoot people who might be drug dealers.
He says immigrants carry disease and are terrorists.
He’s a walking, talking Rorschach test for the alt-right and white supremacists. He holds up his inky cards and they know exactly what they see. He ignores the facts that don’t fit into his world view and tries to incite race-based violence.
Right now, it all leaves Republicans in a terrible pickle.
Privately, I think that most Republicans, Democrats and independents understand that the only reasonable outcome to this situation is for the governor to resign. Publicly, they’re trying to walk a tighter line.
The governor has sent mixed signals about his intentions, suggesting Tuesday morning on WVOM that he might consider resignation, only to walk the idea back later in the day. Who knows what’s really going on in his mind?
He’s tried to go about normal business, issuing a press release bragging about a business in Washington County.
But there’s no going back.
He’s a weight around the necks of his own party, whether they can admit it or not. Either they abandon him or they risk following him into the electoral abyss.
And there’s no reason to believe that the pressure will let up anytime soon.
There’s no question in my mind that this isn’t LePage’s first hateful tirade aimed at someone. But it is the first one that was recorded and then became public — at his request.
He has shown himself to be unstable, and his judgment unsound.
Like trusting Trump with the nuclear codes, is there anyone left who really still believes the governor can be trusted to make the right decision during an emergency — like a flood, severe storm or public health emergency?
Everyone in the Legislature knows what needs to happen. The governor should resign. And if he won’t, then it will fall to lawmakers to put politics aside and do the right thing: Show this man the door.