Dead can dance

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  April 23, 2014

In case you missed it, Ed Muskie last month endorsed independent Eliot Cutler for governor.

This is remarkable for a number of reasons. For one thing, Muskie — the former governor, US senator and secretary of state — was one of the founders of the modern Democratic Party in Maine. His loyalty to its nominees is legendary. For another, although Cutler makes much of having once worked for Muskie, that was long before the candidate gave up public service for high-paying jobs with the influence-peddling industry in places like China.

And finally, there’s the little matter of mortality.

The Muskie in question died in 1996.

The Muskie who drafted the endorsement (published as an op-ed in the March 28 Bangor Daily News) is his son, Edmund Junior, known as Ned. “Were he alive today, I believe [Muskie Senior] would proudly support Eliot for governor,” Junior wrote, dismissing the environmental groups that are backing Democratic hopeful Mike Michaud as “purely partisan,” a claim his Dem-to-the-core dad might have found amusing.

There’s an ironic footnote to all this: One person (among many) who will certainly not be voting for Cutler this November is Ned Muskie, who’s a resident of Washington, D.C.

Still, the exhumation of a Maine political icon to advance the electability of a current candidate has its appeal. Unlike the endorsements of living people, there’s no way the deceased can make comments that might embarrass the campaign, get caught in unseemly liaisons or be indicted for legal transgressions. In nearly every way, the residents of cemetery row have to be considered superior endorsers when compared to the living.

Which explains the work crew busy digging up Margaret Chase Smith. Smith, the former Republican US senator, hasn’t held elected office since 1972 and cast off this mortal coil in 1995, but she’s still regarded with reverence by many older Mainers. As a result, all three campaigns booked séances in hopes of convincing her spirit to bless one of them. To date, Smith has been unresponsive, but once Cutler, Michaud, and GOP Governor Paul LePage start pounding on her coffin lid, they may make enough noise to wake the dead.

Campaign-funded mediums have also made similar efforts to bring forth the specters of such deceased Maine political luminaries as Percival Baxter (former governor, creator of Baxter State Park; packed it in back in 1969), Thomas Brackett Reed (former speaker of the US House of Representatives; bought the farm in 1902), William Pitt Fessenden (ex-US senator and secretary of the treasury during the Civil War; croaked in 1869), and John Baldacci (ex-congressman and governor; refuses to stay dead in spite of repeated attempts to bury him).

There’s nothing like being placed in a grave to enhance somebody’s popular appeal.

By comparison, having some living politician say nice things about you is virtually worthless. Ask any Democrat running in Lewiston whether they’d rather have the endorsement of state Senate President Justin Alfond (technically alive) or former state Representative Louis Jalbert (indefinitely postponed in 1989), and they’ll tell you the Jalbert legacy of backroom wheeling and dealing is still worth a few thousand more votes.

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