Franklin Countys First News

Moderation and ideology in Franklin County

By John Frary

John Frary

John Frary

This is what you must do to raise a spit-storm in Franklin County: Sit down in the Brickyard Café for breakfast; announce that you plan to challenge Tom Saviello in the Republican primary; go down to the Secretary of State’s Office in Augusta and pick up some blank nomination petitions.

That’s all. Your work is done.

When word reached him of these events on the evening of that same day, Sen. Tom Saviello promptly announced that he was poised to abandon his Republican affiliation and “go unenrolled” if threatened with a primary fight.

You (which would be me in this case) didn’t need to collect signatures. You don’t even need to write your own signature in the space provided. In short, you don’t have to do anything. Just say you’re going to do something. In the few days that followed I collected a few signatures; spoke to a couple of reporters and received a couple of emissaries from the GOP leadership. Then I quelled the tempest with a column renouncing my ephemeral candidacy.

It would be unkind to dwell on the evidence we have before us about the depth of Tom’s convictions and the firmness of his backbone, so let us concentrate on the more interesting and significant lessons that spring from this event. Ethan Strimling, on his Feb. 12 BDN blog, tells us that “according to sources within the Republican Party and State House, the stir yesterday was tornado-like when the plan to run tea party favorite Frary against moderate Republican Saviello was exposed....”

According to my sources within the Republican Party and State House Ethan Strimling is a well-dressed boob, but who can say for sure? Political circles are notorious for rumor-mongering. Chris Cousins of the BDN and Kaitlin Schroeder of the Central Maine Papers apparently do not have the advantage of Ethan’s “sources.” So they resorted to calling me. Ethan, my Facebook Friend, can only communicate through that medium; through which he has explained that he’s eager for a chat but has so far found the obstacles insurmountable. I replied with instructions and am now waiting to hear from him.

I was not run and the only plan was my own. Democratic and Republican legislators have remarked that just 10 actual telephone calls from identifiable constituents can sway a legislator’s vote. Republicans who support Governor LePage’s opposition to Medicaid expansion have urged voters who feel the same to call the legislators who appeared likely to vote for an override in hopes of swaying them. My “plan” was simply a gamble that the threat of a primary might prove more effective than a single phone call or e-mail. There’s nothing especially extremist about attempts to pressure legislators. That’s normal politics.

I did not anticipate Tom’s panicky threat to leap back to “Independent” status. Nor did I expect the governor to show up as the villain of a mythical plan. (I should have.) I believe Sen. Tom votes with the Republican majority 70-80 percent of the time (15-20 percent of the time on risky and important issues.) I don’t know who would run in his place as a Republican if he jumped ship, but I knew it was not going to be me. I figured a Democrat would have a good chance of replacing him. This is what agitated some of the GOP leaders.

I’m delighted to hear from Ethan, that I’m a tea party favorite, but have to wonder why the Tea Party people haven’t sent word. I may be the humblest man in Maine, if not all of New England, but I’m burdened with an ego like everyone else and the tiny little nubbin of vanity that goes with it with have enjoyed an accolade.

Ethan’s characterization of Tom Saviello as a “moderate” raises couple of questions. Does Ethan Strimling believe Tom jumped from Democrat to Independent in order to escape association with immoderate ideologues like Ethan Strimling? Does he think he moved from Independent to Republican because he thought the Independents too extreme?

Political commentators and political scientists agree—all of them as near as I can tell—that the correct strategy for candidates in a primary is running to the Right if Republican, to the Left if a Democrat. No less an authority than Edie Smith, Angus King’s henchmammal, instructs us that a moderate course leads to victory. If this is true, and it seems true, how does one distinguish between a principled moderate and an unprincipled opportunist? I have not yet discovered a useful definition, but am willing to be instructed.

Any volunteers?

Certainly, no one craves “immoderate” as an adjective for himself. Immoderation in most things is alarming, while moderate sounds soothing and agreeable to the ears of many. I claim to have a moderate temperament and I’m not aiming to enter a moderation contest with my Strimling, but I’m prepared to challenge him if the thinks he can get away with hoisting the pennant of High Admiral of the Mainstream Fleet. The evidence suggests that he represents only the mainstream of Portland’s West End. When he ran for Congress in the 2008 Democratic primary he finished fourth with 5,833 votes out of 55,382 votes, while I received ca. 107,000 in the same year and 72,000 as candidate for Middlesex County Freeholder in 1983.

Although “ideologue” has an interesting history stretching back to 1794, it has long since become a mere term of abuse. No one praises his favorite candidates as ideologues. Everyone denies their favored candidates are ideologues. It’s a word that has lost all denotative meaning while positively bulging with negative connotations.

That’s a pity since “ideologue” would have some utility if used selectively to describe persons who 1) believe true ideas, platforms, and manifestos are enough to win elections; 2) that it’s possible to create a political party whose candidates are all moved by principle and none by power, perks, prestige and popularity; 3) that it is possible to enact a program in legislatures without resort to compromise and barter; 4) that a majority of voters will ever give priority to abstract values over material parochial advantages.

Some people believe all of these things. I believe none of them.

John Frary of Farmington is a retired history professor and associate editor of "The International Military Encyclopedia," and ran for Congress in 2008. He writes weekly columns for local newspapers and serves on the board of Maine Taxpayers United.

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27 Responses »

  1. "Henchmammal," Mr. Frary?? Rude and unnecessary.

  2. While Washington, D.C., had their altruistic hero in Arlen Spector, I am completely befuddled as to what we are to make of this latest revelation and its place in the annals of Maine Political Science. Since Bush the Elder and up until now, I had been perfectly willing and content to go along with and believe in a mere "thousand points of light". The operating principle was simply to commit and give to a charitable cause. A real Republican no-brainer. Now you're telling us there is even more!

    I have long been wondering since the Franklin County Tea Party meetings (when then Rep. Saviello the Senate candidate, was courting us rabid ideologues ) what political convictions and impulses drove the man.
    Now Sir, you present us with this un-quantified and undiscovered political gem- another facet of Tom Saviello's prism of political pragmatism.

    I had heard of a leopard changing its spots, rabbits changing their colors to survive in their environment and chameleons going from red to brown- but this tri-color political multiplicity( Dem to Indie to Repub) serves who? To my knowledge you have presented a new, hybrid political species altogether unknown (at least to us rabid ideologues). If we were to entertain for a second that what you have presented us is true; then who's to say there may not be even more shades of good and honest political pragmatism in store for us dyed in the wool, red, white and blue Republicans. (Rainbow Coalition anyone?)

    The only frame of reference my feeble mind can conjure up to explain this phenomena rivals the story of Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat)- although I heartily confess, the very notion of assigning such lofty and prestigious titles as "Seer" and "Visionary" to any politician (at least since Winston Churchill) is an obnoxious sentiment in light of my own political and ideological predispositions. In my view, these are not terms one should be heaping upon their candidates (as our contemporary political antagonists have been so dimwittedly enthralled to do).

    But now the rub- I mean, in whom do we "Doubting Thomas's" put our political faith?
    Perhaps my tortured sleep tonight will be much ado about nothing. I'm sure if I contact Senator Saviello's office tomorrow morning it can be easily interpreted for me.

  3. Beth,
    The new 21st century politically correct language is gender neutral.
    Therefore, the term "Henchmammal" would be accurate (as was calling Mitt Romney a "murderer.")

    Calling Mitt Romney a "girl" would have been offensive.

  4. More bitter drivel from that esteemed professor of military history from the highly regarded New Jersey junior college. if Frary was around here long enough to know, actually know things, he would understand about Saviello's ideologies. Tom was a democrat when the seat from Wilton was vacant due to term limits. When the political mood of the nation and Maine moved to the right, he worked his along with the flow! first Independent, ( because Maine loves the concept) and then republican. Tom is nothing if not aware of the political winds.

    As usual, Frary shows his lack of tact and civility, calling Ethan Strimling a "boob." Sorry to see Frary's enormous ego suddenly seem so fragile. At least Strimling has actually received the acclimation of being elected. Frary? Not so well received.

  5. Humble? Is that sarcasm? The above short autobiography is the antithesis of humble. A humble man would not boast his 30 year old success, a recent compliment, or the reactions of his antagonism.

    As for using gender neutral words to describe the vast majority of politicians, I have one for you...puppet.

  6. I do wish Tom was tea-party, but he has my vote anyway. He does something I've never seen before, he seems to truly love his constituents. I believe he wants the best for us and our kids. He encourages people and shows up everywhere! He goes to many school functions and events in our small population of SAD 58. I have several letters he wrote my boys congratulating them on relatively minor accomplishments, he reads to them at the library, he talks to them at scouts, goes to their fund-raisers and serves them food at barbeques! I've lived in 3 states and never seen any politician so devoted, almost fatherly, and that's why I'd vote for Tom even if I had to write him in.

  7. I find Tom well informed, well balanced and with a genuine desire to assist his constituents. He digs to get the real story, which takes time and effort, then makes up his own mind (thus thinks independently). I am quite certain Tom would cross any party line to "do the right thing", and he will always get my vote.

    In fact, I would support him for governor, but I doubt he is interested in such a powerless, figurehead position.

    Frary, not so sure about all that.

  8. Well ... there he goes again. Just when we thought his undeservedly large ego had crumbled under its own weight, the self- described "professor" has returned to bore us with his 1,000-words plus rants. The circus has arrived in town again, led by the lead clown with a clear inability to be concise. Of course, I will vote for Tom Saviello again. Most people will. He has proven himself to be thoughtful, respectful, and fair. He takes the time and effort to get to know his constituents on a personal level. He's someone we can be proud of to represent us. Mr. Frary appeals to his small band of angry ego-strokers, and that's fine. But please don't publicly disparage someone whose character actually means something, unlike you -- who people just refer to as "a real character."

  9. I wonder if Professor Frary is acquainted with Professor J. G. Norris?

  10. Wow, another shiny example of demagoguery fueled by a negative disconnect to his public community. This rhetoric and nonsensical polarization is exactly what we have come to expect from you Mr. Frary. If you were open to actually listening to people other than the few who inflate your ego it would be clear that you have a miniature orderly understanding of the true state of your big complicated world. Praxis is when you implement your theory into real life examples through practice. You have tried this but then misconstrued the results once again with the Frary filter. Sometimes these things look good from your narrow opinion based online news articles but exist in only a small minority of the real world and less in the outlook of people in it. Example, perhaps your talent for saying nothing while taking up space in complete disconnect and disregard for the lives of the majority of the people would be in high demand back in NJ with your buddy Mr. Christie. Let's not even examine your avoidance of personal responsibility or the lack of real leadership skills in you personality. I apologize if this is offensive (apologizing does not mean i that I do not have a back bone but rather that I have a heart and respect for those I address), but you have built your own character, although I compliment you for being a snappy dresser, it does not pardon your choice of words to see and speak of the people and world the way you do. I know sometimes your thoughts do skim the surface of making sense but your aptitude for manipulation to fit the context of your t party addenda is your choice and fault. Honestly its hard to read through one of your articles without humor, they are nothing more than a persnickety venting of something only you understand as relevant. Perhaps it is purely therapeutic and if it is, I actually do support you for finding an outlet. (please don't publicly post it, that is your moment) As for your attack on Mr. Saviello, this is a new low even for you, and again, just a 'same o' strategy of the T Party which hunts to destroy good people, shameless. Tom actually listens and then does what he can for the people and businesses in our community. I was going to defend him more but that would be ridiculous, Tom's actions and connection to the people he has helped in this community are known far and wide and speak for him. Your behavior and actions are just as well known in this small town. Good luck to you John, I hope you can transcend to a state of dignified communication rather than silly name calling and pointless finger pointing. Lets remember how we want to be remembered. Just curious; did you even volunteer and serve in the military?

  11. Well said John. I may not agree with you on many of your views. However after watching Tom for years now, I feel he is a snake in the grass.He is self promoting and there for his own gain.The most recent example is Toms decision to back ld1671.This is a bill to make motorized recreational gold prospecting a crime. This bill is to protect fish habitat. Total bs coming from Tom who worked for the paper mill for how long? A recent study in Maine shows that paper mills were responsible for pollution and declining fish numbers in maine rivers . I've seen first hand how dredging actually improves fish habitat. There's already a dredging law in place with a designated season to protect fish habitat and spawn.The new law backed by Tom is redundant and unnecessary. Just Tom looking to make Tom look better. Hey Tom go drug test some welfare recipients and do something productive for us . (Sarcasm) ha ha

  12. Scott, you hit the nail right on the head. He is a human weathervane,looking out for Tom, and Tom only.

  13. "Pointless", you are VERY MUCH to the point about the "rhetoric and nonsensical polarization". If the shoe fits, Tea Party, wear it!

  14. Here, once again we see a column implicitly supported my the unresponsive responses to it.

    No one challeged my account of the actual events and no argued that Ethan Strimling has a better grasp of the events than Chris Cousins or Kaitlin Schroeder.
    Apparently this was an accurate statement: “There’s nothing especially extremist about attempts to pressure legislators. That’s normal politics.” No one challenged it.

    No one seems prepared to argue that Tom sketched a “profile in courage” when faced with the faint threat of a primary challenge.

    No one offers to explain how Strimling can call Tom a moderate when he votes against the GOP caucus majority while his departure from the Democratic Party was, presumably, not moderate.

    The request for a definition of a “moderate” politician that would not fit an opportunistic equally well goes unanswered.

    I question Ethan Strimling’s credentials as spokesman for the moderate mainstream. The response is that he was elected and I was not. Was that supposed to be an answer?

    In place of its employment as a mere word of abuse, I offered what I see as a useful definition of “ideologue.” No one took exception. No one offered an alternative.

    Frustrated by their impotence the “hostiles” can only resort to juvenile abuse—literary criticism, a priggish objection to “henchmammal, complaints about the column’s length by someone with a short attention-span

    Incredibly, someone responded as if she thought I was NOT widely admired for my personal humility. This we must attribute to inarticulate desperation.

  15. U.S. Senator Olympia Snow quit the job in disgust and disappointment over the rancor of her fellow senators toward each other and toward the the Federal government. I don't mind at all that Angus King won the vacated seat, but Sen. Snow was a good senator for Maine. The Tea Party interference has made everybody else nuts, too! Ever since LePage took office, the picture has become bleaker and bleaker. Can't wait til the new gov. is inaugurated.

  16. Simply put, Tom Saviello is one of the most hard working and civic minded politicians I've ever met. His genuine care for the people of Maine shines through in all aspects of his life, both personal and professional.

  17. John, at the risk of causing further damage to your obviously fragile psyche, may I suggest you seek professional help? You exemplify narcissistic personality disorder. Something I had confused for self-confidence until you referred to those who do not align with you as hostiles. Here you have strayed so far from your topic that you feel the need to reiterate in a second post. Since none of the comments that follow are on point, I would have to guess that "we" are the pot calling the kettle black. Also textbook narcissist as everyone can read my comment and form their own opinion but you felt the need to belittle me, why? I simply asked a question and used your own points to support my inquiry. Perhaps a therapist can help you find happiness through self-acceptance.

  18. As a fellow selectman from Wilton and a personal friend of Sen. Saviello's, I can tell you that Tom strives to represent the people of his district; whatever their political party. I am no seasoned politician, but I do believe that is what any elected official is sworn by oath to do, to represent the people of his/her town, district, state, or country. Admittedly, I do not agree with all of Tom's decisions or votes, but I do know that his goal is to represent Western Maine as well as he can in Augusta and I applaud him for that.

  19. Strangely, I used to have serious arguments with liberals,and Marxists, and even an outright admirer of Joseph Stalin, in grad school during the tumultuous sixties. Sometimes I had to think through a response. None of them ever seemed alarmed by unfamiliar words. None of them posed as literary critics.

    Now look. What became of those people?

  20. Anyone that knows Tom Saviello knows that he always has done whatever he can to help his constituents whether that fits his own thoughts or not. Tom is doing exactly what he was elected to do, which is represent the people.
    No one is looking out for your best interests any more than Tom is!

  21. While I don't know the man, sounds like Mr. Saviello follows the current mood rather than any set of principles or beliefs, which would seem not to represent the wishes of any group in general, but himself in particular. Sounds like he is a follower, a glad-hander, not a leader, and therefore of diminished value to all. Sounds self-serving to me, but if that's what his constituents want, they're getting what they deserve. A weathervane, not a compass needle. I think we need strong, steady, principled political leadership today, and that most of this country's current problems stem from the lack of it. I believe Mr. Frary's intent was correct, if slightly wordy, not uncommon for the man, he enjoys words!

  22. "Slavery" was once a belief that was OK. There was a VERY LARGE group of people that agreed. Some "sets of principles" aren't meant to last....

  23. Slavery was only overturned in this country because of people who HAD principles they were willing to die for. Very likely the people who lacked principles would not have marched into withering cannon and musket fire to free others they didn't even know. Very likely it would be very difficult to muster significant forces with such dedication and bravery today. We are still evolving, and still have to overcome MANY beliefs that are not ok.

  24. I thought a person elected to represent their constituents should, in fact, represent their constituents. Thank you Arnold, for clarifying.

  25. I merely expressed a personal opinion, not claiming it to be better or worse than anyone else's, everyone has a right to their own. It wasn't intended so much as criticism of Mr. Saviello as it was a protest of that type of politician in general, who, as I stated, I feel have done much harm to the country due to lack of principled leadership. Like many, I have been greatly saddened to see such harm occur, and fear for the country's future as a result. I hope it can still be reversed.

  26. Mr. A.P., would you like to give an example of the "harm done to the country due to unprincipled leadership"? Because you "fear for the country's future as a result". This is sounding rather cryptic...

  27. Actual News: No, I would consider that a waste of time and effort.