The Augusta Civic Center lobby swarmed with soldiers, security guards, legislators, lobbyists, and Republican ladies in nice dresses with "Volunteer" badges. The close-cropped soldiers wore ribbons and medals. The security guards had white buds in their ears. A rigid state trooper guarded the auditorium entrance, his wide-brimmed hat ludicrously low over his eyes.
The legislators were glad-handing everyone in sight. Maine's omnipresent lobbyist, Severin Beliveau, who at least until Election Day had been a Democrat, greeted Canadian guests in French. The lady volunteers became flustered when I said I didn't have a ticket. Then I used the magic word: "press." It was nice to see it worked. Paul LePage has had stormy relations with the press.
The auditorium was packed with thousands of by-invitation-only, murmuring Tea Partiers and other right-wingers — a sobering sight. The parade of governors was announced. As the Honorables Baldacci, King, McKernan, and Brennan grimly waited at the entrance, they looked like boys forced to line up to march into school at the end of recess. But cheers greeted them — and greeted the next parades, of legislators and black-robed judges.
"I'm surprised at the elaborateness," said a Canadian woman next to me. Yes, Imperial Maine is a ridiculous concept.
It got worse. An honor guard formed a gantlet. A military herald boomed into a microphone: "Hear ye, make way . . . for the commander in chief of the State of Maine." A color guard marched LePage to the stage. In dark suit and bright red tie, he looked relaxed and happy, even a little regal. The election proclamation was read, requiring citizens to give "due obedience" to "all his acts and commands."
After he took the oath, Governor LePage delivered the inaugural address in his gravelly voice. It was a partly off-the-cuff repetition of campaign platitudes: to shrink government, cut regulations, reform welfare, revamp education, put people before politics, and — above all — create jobs.
America's dominant ideology requires politicians to criticize the government they yearn to direct. But LePage is sincerely anti-government. When he referred to "a bloated establishment in Augusta," thunderous applause poured from his fellow government-haters. He spent an extraordinary amount of time, however, praising the part of the government most visible at this event — our warriors, for serving "in defense of our state and nation." I wondered: Did he include defending us from Iraq?
No "favors for the special interests," he pledged, yet his speech was largely devoted to promising favors to business interests. "Every advancement in society" depends on the profit motive, he said. He should talk to a few university scientists. He also should hire someone to check his facts. Maine people earn "80 percent of the national per capita income," he claimed. The actual number is 92 percent, according to the US Department of Commerce. But LePage doesn't have much use for the feds.
Maine's dreadful liberal elite see him as possessing no class. In his intemperate remarks he makes a fool of himself, and he drops his "g's." But unlike many politicians, he's real. He's not blown-dry, stiff, and mealy-mouthed. I found his speech's folksy style refreshing.
Sociologists say that inaugural rituals exist to unite us and strengthen obedience to our civic religion. Why the martial tone? The military is all about obedience. LePage specifically wants obedience to the corporate cult, which despises government except for the forces of order and the many forms of corporate welfare.