Eliot Cutler, Gov. Muskie, and the problem with endorsements from beyond the grave


In an opinion piece for this newspaper, Edmund Muskie Jr. used the 100th Anniversary of his father’s birth to evoke the specter of the late governor and ask that you to support Eliot Cutler. Of course the elder Muskie has not been with us since 1996, but we are assured that the trusted name in Maine politics believed in Cutler up to just under 20 years ago.

The endorsement recounts some of Cutler’s most admirable and important accomplishments, particularly his work on the behalf of the environment through the 90s. On one hand, it is nice to read a personal endorsement instead of the precisely crafted prose that typically comes from advocacy groups. On the other, an implied endorsement on the behalf a person who has been dead for nearly two decades feels a bit confused.

Not only has the elder Muskie not seen Cutler’s performance in the 18 years since he passed, he has not seen his performance over the past 4. As far as Maine politics goes, this has included running for governor, losing, disappearing to write a painfully long piece of campaign literature, and then reemerging to run for governor again. I feel like this would leave Gov. Muskie wanting a little more, though there is no use speculating as he died in 1996.

I understand what he is doing. Cutler is stuck because he is an independent and political endorsements from advocacy groups—or “special interests” as his PR team spins them—are hard to come by as the field they have to navigate is inherently partisan. That said, it is hard to spin an endorsement from one kind of group as moot while at the same time accepting one from the memory of a person who is no longer on this planet.

Also, the idea of aligning oneself with a politician from the past is always a strange exercise, especially politicians who haven’t served (or lived) for decades. Those rabid tea partiers who adopted the nostalgia-soaked ghost of Reagan, anyone? At least said advocacy groups (and “special interest groups” when I don’t agree with what they are advocating for) are working on issues in the context of today. Our memories of politicians and of what they actually did becomes faded and distorted over time to the point where we remember the stories of the stories of what they actually accomplished or why we admired them in the first place. This is not to say that the work of Muskie is not worthy of admiration or respect, but said respect comes in the context of a particular era that has come and gone.

Again, not to discredit what Muskie did or who he was, but I find his relevance to the Cutler we know today to be sloppily distracting. Muskie was important and great and became as we remember him today in another time—another series of circumstances. These are not relevant to the Cutler that we know today. Is the campaign attempting to associate itself with Muskie nostalgia on the 100th anniversary of his birth, or pointing to the past as a means of suggesting that Cutler is the leader that can bring Maine into the future? It is all very confusing.




Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.