Politics & Other Mistakes: Tall tales from forked tongues

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Let’s consider the lie, a political pollutant more ubiquitous than PFAS in the water supply. Like forever chemicals, lies never go away, but unlike PFAS, the reaction we have to blatant falsehoods is dramatically affected by our ideological prejudices.

If somebody we don’t like tells lies, it’s an outrage, an insult to propriety and a threat to democracy. But if a politician we agree with goes all George Santos, it’s an oversight, an accidental misstatement, a rhetorical device of no great consequence.

Al DiamonThe lies told by our political opponents are the only ones that stick in our craw. We have no problem swallowing whatever prevarications our allies offer up. If only it were as easy to dismiss the PFAS poison we ingest every time we pour a glass of contaminated H2O down our throats.

I was recently reminded of this particular form of hypocrisy when Democratic Gov. Janet Mills announced her proposed changes to the state’s abortion laws. During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, Mills repeatedly said she had no plans to expand access or otherwise alter the status quo, which allows abortions through the first 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, until viability occurs.

“I support the current Maine law,” Mills said during an October debate. “It reflects Roe v. Wade, which tragically the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen to overturn. I believe a woman’s right to choose is just that. It’s a woman’s right, not a politician’s.”

Then, she added, “I have no plans to change the current law.”

We now know Mills was lying. In mid-January, she held a news conference to unveil a package of bills including one that extends abortion access to the third trimester of pregnancy in cases where a qualified medical professional deems it necessary.

Let me be clear: I support this measure, which would address those rare cases where the fetus suffers from terrible deformities that would prevent it from surviving. This legislation would remove a difficult situation from the political arena and place it where it belongs, in the hands of pregnant women and health-care experts.

I also understand why Mills lied. She didn’t want to hand her Republican opponent, former governor Paul LePage, an emotional issue he could twist into TV spots about how once Mills got back in the Blaine House, she planned to start killing babies.

Speaking of LePage, it’s worth noting that he had his own problems with the truth when it came to abortion. Although he sported a solid pro-life history during his two terms as governor, LePage suddenly became uncharacteristically reticent concerning the issue. Throughout the campaign, he attempted to deflect questions about restricting abortion by saying he’d be too busy dealing with economic matters to bother with such trivialities.

But during another gubernatorial debate, LePage was hit with a question about whether he’d veto a ban on abortions after 15 weeks. He made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to avoid answering before finally being pressed to take a stand. He reluctantly mumbled, “Yes.”

Then, his nose grew six inches.

LePage had made a clumsy blunder in a fruitless attempt to avoid firing up the pro-choice crowd. Within hours, his closest advisors were in contact with anti-abortion stalwarts such as the Maine Right to Life Committee and the Christian Civic League of Maine to reassure them the volatile former governor hadn’t changed his position on the issue. He was just lying about it.

As is so often the case in politics, LePage’s friends were willing to overlook this moral shortcoming because they desperately wanted to win the election, after which they knew they’d have his support for whatever restrictions on abortion they could dream up.

Mills and her pals are now engaged in a similar bout of cognitive dissonance. She told the Bangor Daily News she hadn’t even considered liberalizing abortion laws during the campaign, and she told the Portland Press Herald her new bill wasn’t a change, but rather an “amplification” of the existing statute. Her bobble-headed backers all nodded along, as if that actually made sense.

Then, a couple of them rushed to get an extinguisher because the governor’s pants were on fire.

Tell me the truth by emailing [email protected]

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