Speedo dance gives Senate campaign legs

Here’s an interesting anecdote: I used to wear a Speedo rather regularly.

That’s an odd way to start a column, I admit, but apparently there is nothing better to do in Maine politics right now than to talk about people wearing Speedos. And dancing. In Speedos.

In any event, my Speedo-wearing habit was directly tied to being a competitive swimmer and the general attire one wears when attempting to swim faster than other people.

Maine Senate candidate Republican Eric Brakey, of New Gloucester, on the other hand, was wearing a Speedo while dancing around like a crazy person for a commercial for Vita Coco coconut water. There may or may not have also been some coconut maracas involved.

Brakey is, of course, an actor and was doing his job making a funny commercial. The commercial became a thing for some reason. Brakey’s supporters are making light of the whole thing, and Vita Coco sales are up. And here I am talking about it all.

I’ve seen an awful lot of stupid stories blow up in my time in politics, but this one probably takes the cake.

The “controversy” was pushed by Mike Hein, former jailbird and disgraced former administrator of the Maine Christian Civic League, who seemed to object to Brakey dancing in a Speedo because it was somehow morally objectionable. Or something.

Hein found the old Speedo dancing commercial and started sharing it with activists and members of the Maine media. The rest is history.

Maine journalists who chased Hein’s catnip should be ashamed of themselves. Not only is this one of the stupidest, most vapid and pointless stories I have ever seen, but there was no reason to even cover it.

Brakey is an actor, and he was paid to make a commercial. The company paid him to dance in a Speedo to elicit a laugh (which worked), to sell their product. He didn’t do or say anything objectionable, and no reasonable person would be offended by it.

Indeed, the almost universal reaction to Hein complaining about it was, “Huh?”

Indeed, Hein is irrelevant to anything in Maine politics. He went to jail briefly for campaign ethics violations; he no longer works for a major political organization; he doesn’t command an army of grassroots activists; both the Republican establishment and anti-establishment (which Brakey counts himself among) consider him to be unhelpful and do not follow his lead on anything. His pontifications on any subject are ignored.

When he complains about something, it is no more newsworthy than your neighbor Joe complaining over lunch at Subway.

So why would any member of the media take the bait and cover anything he does? If the complaint was obviously vindictive and pointless, and his opinion carries no weight with anyone on his side of the political aisle (and certainly not the other side), what could compel anyone to cover his antics?

With the black hole that is the news cycle after the adjournment of the Legislature, and the lull before the 2014 campaign really heats up, it was quick and easy bait for readers.

Sadly, this is where news seems to be heading as the industry gropes for survival in the changing industry. It doesn’t have to actually be news, so long as it generates readership.

As for Brakey, it is nice to see he is taking it in stride. Rather than feel embarrassed about something he shouldn’t feel embarrassed about, he is laughing all the way to the ballot box.

He has had more free publicity from this incident than he could have ever bought in a race like this, and he has had an opportunity to show his personality and good nature to the voters. He very easily could have gotten angry and bitter that he was forced to deal with this, but he didn’t.

But I hope that, if anything, in an era of high unemployment, budget deficits, entitlement spending, debates on civil liberties, taxes and the role of government in our lives, we can all agree that there is no need to talk about Speedos ever again.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.