Angus for real

In an interview, the ex-governor and independent Senate candidate explains his political views as expressed in his Bowdoin blogs
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  March 21, 2012


Barring an act of God, utter stupidity, or an unexpected explosion of well-financed excellence from one of the second-stringers who will prevail in Maine's Democratic and Republican United States Senate primaries, Angus S. King Jr. will be the state's next US senator.

After Republican Olympia Snowe announced out of the blue that she wouldn't run again, King, the popular, rich former governor, who is an independent, quickly jumped into the race to succeed her. Just by doing so he managed to scare away three first-stringers from entering the Democratic primary — US representatives Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud and former governor John Baldacci.

So what kind of senator would the formidable King be? Since the next US Senate is expected to be narrowly divided, that's a big national political question these days.

As in the past, King is spinning hard that he's intensely independent — economically conservative, socially liberal, Republican and Democratic. That spin will drive his campaign. The essence of his platform, he said in an interview, is "being an independent."

And it's true that, as governor, he went both ways, vetoing minimum-wage hikes and supporting gay rights. In his 1998 re-election campaign he had the not-very-secret support of both Democratic and Republican establishments. The parties only put up token candidates against him.

But he left office almost 10 years ago. Where are his heart and brain now?

That location may be revealed in a series of blogs — really, political essays — he wrote in 2010 and 2011 for the Bowdoin Daily Sun, the college's online newsletter. King has taught at Bowdoin since 2004.

Presumably, the essays are candid, composed by someone in his middle 60s who never expected to run for office again. They're also thoughtful and well written, making philosophical points with lively anecdotes. Here's a summary:

The philosopher King

ON GOVERNMENT AND TAXES King strongly defends government as a regulator of huge corporations that often have "no national (or any other) allegiances." Against them, "government is the only real protector we have, imperfect as it may be." Both the Gulf oil disaster and the financial crisis were "unadulterated products of the free market." He takes Ronald Reagan to task for his statement, which he bemoans as the contemporary conventional wisdom, that government is the problem.

He also attacks another Reagan principle, "the official core ideology of the Republican Party," he says, that taxes are always bad and always wasted. "My father — the best man I ever met — never complained about taxes," he writes. Paying income taxes was good "because it meant you were making money and, more fundamentally . . . paying taxes was a privilege of citizenship."

ON CAPITALISM Capitalism is superior to socialism at producing opportunity, creativity, and goods. But "the exploitation of workers and resources is hard-wired into the logic of the capitalist system," which constantly tries to lower costs. Ending child labor, sweatshops, dangerous working conditions, 70-hour work weeks, poisoned air and water — capitalism "fought each reform in turn." So we need "capitalism with rules" — muscular government rules.

And without national rules, "companies will play states off against one another" in a "race to the bottom" to gut environmental and labor safeguards. As governor, King "lived this kind of competition for eight years." If we give free rein to the free market, "if the unions are eviscerated and government is rendered impotent, we will have no defense left."

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