Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t get many attaboys – especially from Maine’s newspaper columnists – but this week he deserves two.
He earns one for vetoing a proposal to increase the age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21. And he receives another huge attaboy for rejecting the proposed ban on hand-held use of cellphones by drivers.
People can find fault with many things LePage has said and done. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, he blatantly lied about a vacation he was planning to take just as a government shutdown was taking effect.
However, for all he has done wrong, LePage can get it right, too. Last week’s two vetoes were stellar examples of LePage sticking by his conservative guns and speaking truth to the powers of nanny statism.
The cigarette and cellphone bills are two peas in the same pod. In forwarding the bills to LePage’s desk, the Legislature assumed the citizenry needed to be told how to act, rather than letting citizens make decisions for themselves. LePage wisely understood what was at the heart of both proposals – tyranny in the name of health and safety – and stood on the side of freedom by rejecting them.
In a culture affected by terrorism and product recalls that increasingly values safety and security above anything else, we probably won’t have many more governors, especially in the liberal Northeast, who will take such a stand on behalf of the liberty-minded. It’s just funny that many reactive and reflexive LePage bashers don’t realize that he is really a lover of freedom, who’s doing what he can to make sure that personal freedoms aren’t eroded any further.
Regarding the cigarette bill, the governor said on Bangor radio station WVOM that anybody who is allowed to go and fight for his country at age 18 should also be allowed to buy cigarettes. That makes total sense.
Sure, smoking is terrible for one’s health, but we each should have the chance to make that decision. And if someone is being sent to possibly die in the name of America, the government shouldn’t at the same time curtail his or her freedom (to buy smokes, in this case).
Ironically, social liberals and social conservatives are probably more in agreement when it comes to issues of liberty than they think, since issues of freedom are matters of choice.
Liberals who want abortion, drugs, prostitution and LGBTQ rights are really seeking government recognition of their freedom to choose. Similarly, conservatives who want less intrusion from government when it comes to their choices to buy and use guns, practice religion and where to send their kids for school are also seeking the freedom to choose.
Essentially, liberals and conservatives aren’t that far apart; they’re simply branches on a tree whose trunk and roots are freedom.
In a culture that has been asking itself how it will ever heal from the angry rhetoric and violence seen in the run-up to the 2016 election and its aftermath, it’s helpful to remember that the principal trait of being a true American isn’t belief in how to approach health care or the national debt, it’s our common love of freedom.
Each side has its own manner of prioritizing what policies should be preserved or furthered, but we can both agree that a nanny government needs to be shackled, or it will take over our lives.
We need look no further than Great Britain for an example of government run amok in the name of health and safety. Leaders there recently ruined the life of little Charlie Gard and his parents by barring them from taking him to America for a chance, albeit remote, to reverse a rare ailment. We tend to think England is much like us, but then we’re reminded that it is a severe nanny state, even under the current conservative government.
This is why America rebelled and broke away 240 years ago. We value our freedom. If we want to fly our child somewhere for experimental medical treatment, the government can’t stop us. This freedom principle is something American liberals and conservatives both agree on.
I’m proud to say my governor still thinks I can make wise choices regarding my own health and safety. With so much wrong with LePage, at least he understands what makes America and Maine great: personal freedom unfettered by a government that may have good intentions to improve health and safety, but is really just trying to erode our liberties one cigarette and cell-phone call at a time.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.