The Corner

True American Tales

I’d like to tell a story that relates to my “Maine Journal” today. Please bear with me a moment.

Years ago, I worked for a man who was a fairly high-flying lawyer. He went to three storied schools: Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard (in that order, I believe). One day, I got to asking him where he was from. West Virginia, he said. The family was poor. I don’t think there was a father. I believe it was a no-electricity, no-running-water situation. I believe he did not have a proper pair of shoes until 14 or something.

What I remember specifically is this: There were no books in the house, of course. But there was one guy in town who was well off — he was the banker, maybe — and he had books. He let Michael read pretty much all of them.

I remember thinking, “To much of the world, Michael is just another ‘privileged white male.’ Yet if he were of a different color — or even of the other sex — he would be hailed as a great bootstraps story.”

This brings me to Maine: and the governor, Paul LePage. He was born in Lewiston — no garden spot — in 1948. He was the first of 18 children. The family was Franco-American, and French-speaking. Paul’s father was a mill worker and drunk. A violent drunk. He beat the hell out of Paul, who escaped home at age eleven. Paul lived on the streets for two years — sleeping in stables and strip joints and the like. Eventually, a couple of families kept an eye on him. When he got to college age, he could not get in, because his English wasn’t good enough: He spoke French. But he finessed that — there’s a French word — and he worked his way up.

Okay, my point is this: LePage is a conservative Republican — and fantastically, sometimes thrillingly unpolished — but he if were a liberal Democrat, he would be a national celebrity as Horatio Alger incarnate. There’d be movies and songs and poems about him.

Am I expressing conservative paranoia and self-pity about the media and “the culture”? Or am I simply acquainted with reality?

By the way: If Clarence Thomas were a liberal Democrat, instead of a conservative Republican, his story would be taught to every child in the land, and his poster would be ubiquitous on kids’ walls. Hell, he might be on a coin already.


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