Our View: George Mitchell's advice: Accentuate the positive

Wow. Wasn't that a great speech?

No, not Tuesday evening's State of the Union, which was competent and polished but, as a famous president once said, "The world will little note, nor long remember ..."

The better speech Tuesday was delivered in Augusta by former Sen. George J. Mitchell, which he then elaborated upon in an interview with the Bangor Daily News.

Mitchell, who addressed a joint session of the Legislature after the unveiling of his portrait in the State House Hall of Flags, delivered a speech that was warm, wise and sunny, a stark contrast to so much political discourse which is too often mean, superficial and bleak.

We invite you to read the transcript or, better yet, listen to a recording done by Maine Public Broadcasting.

We regularly hear that our country is in irreversible decline and that our era of economic dominance and wealth may be over.

Mitchell isn't buying it.

"There will be substantial economic growth in the United States over the next couple of decades as our comparative advantages with other countries grows, not lessens," Mitchell told the BDN.

"I think, in fact, that the next half century will be one of the greatest periods in American history."

Mitchell sees a "steady and strong period of economic growth, job creation and rising incomes" that will help drain the negativity in today's political rhetoric.

Mitchell lamented the polarization in today's politics, and he gave three bits of practical advice to today's politicians:

Learn to listen, be patient and respect those who disagree with you.

Mitchell explained that during his six years as Senate Majority Leader and nine preceding years as a senator from Maine, he learned the value of listening rather than talking.

Along the way, Mitchell made the "startling" discovery that his persuasive powers grew the more he listened and the less he talked.

He said that revelation prepared him for the seemingly impossible task of bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Mitchell explained how he quietly listened and worked behind the scenes in Ireland as politicians on both sides gave repetitious speeches meant to divide rather than unite. Ultimately, he was successful, but the process tested his "patience muscle."

Mitchell also described how, as Democratic majority leader in the Senate, he worked out an agreement with his Republican counterpart, Sen. Bob Dole.

The two agreed to never attack each other personally, in public or private. Mitchell promised to never surprise Dole and always give him notice of his intentions. And the two pledged to keep the commitments they made to each other.

"Never once did a harsh word ever pass between us, in public or private," and together we "negotiated hundreds of agreements on Senate business and procedures."

Now think of today's Senate leaders, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitchell McConnell, R-Ky., and all they have failed to accomplish. Unlike Mitchell and Dole, the two don't trust each other and have little or no relationship, says the Washington Post.

Mitchell said that after his family the most important thing in his life is the scholarship program he created when he left the Senate. Since its inception, Mitchell said his program has provided more than $11 million to almost 2,300 college-bound Maine students, 85 percent of whom graduate from college.

"After meeting thousands of our young people, I can tell you that, without a doubt, Maine students are as good as any students in America and, if given a chance and the tools, they can compete with anyone, anywhere, any time."

Intentionally or not, Mitchell's statement contradicts the drumbeat of negative statements Gov. Paul LePage has said about Maine's people and students. In 2012, LePage said Maine students are looked down upon by colleges across the country, and that one school, William and Mary, had a special entry test for Maine students.

The college later said it had no such test.

Mitchell's statements Tuesday expressed his warmth, love and optimism for Maine and our great country.

Our current leadership should spend more time doing the same.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

Listen to George Mitchell's speech before the Legislature

(courtesy of Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

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JOANNE MOORE's picture

What a contrast!

What a contrast between former Senator Mitchell and our Gov. LePage. Mitchell is a man who loves Maine and her people. It makes me sad to think that all the great statesmen and women we are famous for in the past has to come down to someone who obviously does not like Maine nor those of us who live here. For thoses who support LePage and thing he's just the bee's knees, I think time will tell and LePage will go down in history as the worst leader we have ever had.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Joanne, I think he's already reached..........

Joanne, I think he's already reached the point of being the worst Governor in the history of Maine. I think now, he is now just taking the extra steps to make sure no one ever surpasses his mark.................

JOANNE MOORE's picture

typos, sorry

thoses - those............thing - think. Gee I hate that when it happens.


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