Here’s Something: Props to LePage for letting freedom ring

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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.

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  • truther

    I’m still not following you here. You say Americans should be free to choose to buy cigarettes, even if smoking is “terrible for one’s health,” because freedom is good, and the government can’t intervene because the nanny state is bad.

    But you also say Americans shouldn’t be free to choose to smoke marijuana, even if it’s terrible for their health, because freedom is bad, and the government should intervene because the nanny state is good.

    Nope, still doesn’t make sense. I think you, like all conservatives, actually just assume everyone is just like you, and you dress up your assumption in this silly rhetoric of liberty and oppression and whatnot to give a veneer of coherence to something that is actually just your own personal worldview.

    • Little crow

      How about everybody gets to makes their personal decisions, no matter how ill advised, as long as they don’t violate the rights of others? And yes, that would mean legalized drugs for adults, as well as riding a motorcycle without a helmet or driving without a seatbelt.

      • Ted Markow

        Your post reminds me of something I read by a very wise man (paraphrasing): The Statue of Liberty on America’s east coast should be balanced by a Statue of Responsibility on its west coast.

        He wasn’t referring to the oft abused term “personal responsibility” either.

      • truther

        There are a couple big problems with the “everybody should be free to make their own stupid choices” idea. One is that people aren’t often in a position to knowingly make a true choice — maybe they’ve been lied to, or they’re dumb, or they’re too desperate. “Freedom of contract” was how they used to justify letting children work in coal mines. The Ford Pinto had an exploding gas tank not because consumers willingly chose to sacrifice safety for money, but because Ford made a business decision that it was cheaper to sell a defective car that occasionally exploded than to spend the extra dough making the car safe to begin with.

        Another big problem is that “not violating the rights of others” is easier said than done. Society pays when individuals harm themselves. When some helmetless motorcycle rider crashes into the back of a texting teenage driver, we all pay — from our emergency responders to our medical system to even just having a huge backup on the highway that inconveniences everyone else. To say nothing of any innocent bystander who was also caught up in the crash. There’s no such thing as true “freedom” in our society and we’d be much worse off if there was.

  • David Craig

    Sure. Let’s not stop there. Text while you drive. Unplug that seatbelt. Take those warning labels off cigarettes. Put cigarette ads back on TV. Because, Freedom. This is your lamest opinion piece yet and that’s saying something.

    • Little crow

      I would agree with all those things you mentioned except texting while driving, as that endangers others. And yes, I value freedom. I’m sorry you don’t. I don’t smoke and I always buckle my seat belt (I even installed seat belts in my 1962 Ford before they came as original equipment, and it saved me from more serious injury than I had); but I don’t believe in forcing you to do things my way. Do you really think your personal choices should be left to those you deem to be smarter than you?

      • David Craig

        Texting endangers others, but talking on a cellphone doesn’t? I value freedom, but I also understand that limits must be placed somewhere along the spectrum of total control and total freedom to protect the rights and lives of others. From reading your comments, I think we agree on that. The disagreements about freedom usually come down to where we draw the line. My basic dispute with Balentine’s opinion piece is that he lauds the Governor as some champion for freedom for drawing the line at cellphones and cigarettes. In Balentine’s opinion, those of us who draw the line in a different place want a nanny state. He shows a limited binary understanding of a complex issue. Agree with him and you value freedom. Disagree with him and you want a nanny state.

      • Ted Markow

        Well, howsabout this: Since drinking excessively and drugging and smoking, not to mention texting and chatting on a phone and not wearing seat belts while driving have all been proven to be hazardous, those who express their “freedom” by ignoring said hazards should pay the complete and total cost of any bodily harm or property damage they cause to all affected (including themselves) OUT OF POCKET (or house). IOW, if you want to be completely “free” and unencumbered, the rest of us should not have to pay for it through higher insurance rates, medical costs, and taxes for first responders to scrape you off the pavement.

        Freedom Responsibility – a balancing act. That’s what living in a society is all about.

        • Little crow

          I agree completely. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.