Jon Stewart has spent some time on his “Daily Show” scorning Paul LePage. Yet Stewart and our governor have something important in common. They both admire Philip K. Howard’s most recent book, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government. When I gave Paul the book last month he noted the insert on its cover containing Stewart’s warm praise without comment, and turned immediately to the index and bibliography. This is what knowledgeable “expert readers” do to form an idea about where an author is coming from. Intrigued to read that Howard, a one-time adviser to Al Gore and much admired by liberals like Stewart, had drawn from the works of Friedrich Hayek, Peter Drucker, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Adam Smith, the governor promised to read the book as soon as he finished a work on JFK he was reading at the time.
When I met Paul at the May 8 Governor’s Hill Mansion reception honoring the GOP state chairman, Rick Bennett, he was clearly delighted by Howard’s insights into governmental dysfunction. He told he found himself underlining every other sentence for emphasis until he decided that he might as well underline it all. I noticed that he lifted a line from the book for his speech to the reception audience. The Rule of Nobody repeatedly supports and amplifies the points about dysfunctional government that Paul LePage has made in public and in private meetings.
It does not follow that these men agree across the board. They may disagree on global warming, income tax abolition, renewable energy portfolios or even constitutional interpretation. It is sometimes possible to infer the writer’s views on questions peripheral to governmental effectiveness. Often it is not; and the governor’s interest is focused on the book’s central subject in any case.
This was no surprise to me. The longest private conversation I have had with the man, was on a drive from Waterville to Bangor and back before he announced his intention to run. His conversation was focused on the means and methods of achieving organizational efficiency. We spoke very little about philosophy or “ideology.” His supporters make much of Paul’s experiences as a businessman, but often glide over the specifics. It’s important that a large part of his career was as a “turn-around” specialist, as a consultant who job it was to convert declining, low-profit, or no-profit concerns into viable enterprises. Clearing out inefficiencies was always critical to those tasks.
There’s a philosophical, as opposed to managerial principle influencing Paul LePage’s intense interest in improving governmental performance. His genuine sympathy for the ordinary taxpayer reinforces his anger at the sight of every dollar dribbled away because of cumbersome, irresponsible, and futile operations that infect bureaucratic and legislative operations. The Rule of Nobody interests him because of the light it sheds on the systemic problems afflicting American government and American politics.
No one who has surveyed Paul’s personal library could be surprised to learn that he’s ready to learn from reading books by authors with strong liberal credentials. His shelves contain a fair representation of books by liberal authors. He resembles Mr. Howard in this: his interests are not fenced by ideological boundaries. People who are genuinely interested to discover why our governor remained unsatisfied with the moderate regulatory reforms passed in his first year will find an explanation in Howard’s book.