Maine political media are a-flutter with the news of the tape of Sen. Gratwick telling a constituent that Mike Michaud is “good, he’s good, he’s strong, high average but not a brain guy.”
(As the full quote shows, Gratwick certainly did not say Michaud is not smart. And that’s from a snippet taken out of context because the GOP refuses to release the full tape.)
Meanwhile, American politics is full of politicians who were presented as not-brilliant who were highly effective presidents.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the most influential leader of the twentieth century, was said to have “a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.”
Ronald Reagan, another very consequential president of the last century, was called an “amiable dunce.”
Michaud’s intellect has also been underestimated, perhaps because of his style.
As I wrote in my last column, Michaud has a temperament that enables him to bring people together in politics. He was so effective as this as Senate president that Rick Bennett, now the GOP party chair in Maine, said the Maine Senate had become like “a family.”
Michaud has not only been judged by his constituents, who have returned him to office many times, but by his peers.
Fellow legislators have seen him up close.
What did they decide?
He was the chair of the Maine Senate’s Appropriations Committee for four years. This is a tough job. Every dollar spent by the state government has to be approved by the committee. And, having looked in this paper’s archives to see what was written about Michaud from his days in the Legislature, I can’t find any criticisms of him from that time with claims that he wasn’t up for the job.
After he was Appropriations Committee chair, Michaud was selected to be the Senate president. As Bennett’s quote demonstrates, he did that very well.
And in Congress, Michaud rose in the Veterans Committee. One does not become ranking member or chair of a congressional committee or subcommittee due to seniority. Those days are past. People get those jobs because they are judged by peers and leaders as qualified and deserving. As such, Michaud helped pass the large scale reform bill for the VA.
So, it’s time to stop with the claims that Michaud isn’t up to the task of governor.
Part of me thinks that some of what’s going on is implicit snobbery. Michaud has had less formal education than most candidates. He is from a working class background and worked in a factory.
As Duke professor Nicholas Carnes points out:
One of the most important ways that class matters in American politics is this: our political institutions — the institutions that make the final decisions about the issues that divide rich and poor Americans — are all packed with wealthy, white-collar professionals.
I know many people with working class backgrounds and not a lot of higher education who are plenty smart and plenty capable, but I also know that they are often less smooth in their presentations.
(LePage’s allies sometimes say one reason why the governor makes rude, sharp comments is because he’s from a working class background. This implies that working class people are ruder than others, something I have not found to be true.)
By the way, one of the things I’ve sometimes heard people claim is that Cutler is the policy wonk of this race.
Cutler has not had a single day in elected office and thus no actual experience as an elected official trying to get policies enacted and implemented. However, some people say, he has ideas.
But I’ve looked closely at his and Michaud’s campaign websites (and of course LePage’s) and what I’ve found is that Cutler’s policy documents are not as developed, detailed or as well thought out as Michaud’s. You should check them out yourself.
What I’ve seen is that Michaud’s plans shows a depth of planning that demonstrates his deep experience and, yes, his smarts.