The Universal Notebook: Gov. Scrooge strikes again

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Back around Christmas 2011, when Gov. Paul LePage threw 65,000 Maine residents off MaineCare, he drew comparisons in this column and elsewhere to the heartless Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Well, this holiday season, Scrooge LePage struck again. “At this festive season of the year, Gov. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessities; hundred of thousands in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked the governor. “Are there no workhouses?”

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh, I was afraid from what you said that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course. I’m very glad to hear it.”

Scrooge LePage’s most recent proposal is to put 12-year-olds to work, possibly the most backward thinking since child labor laws were enacted in the Dickensian days of 19th century sweatshops.

“That’s causing damage to our economy,” LePage said of the age 16 work limit. “I started far earlier than that, and it didn’t hurt me at all.”

Oh, really, Gov. Scrooge? You don’t think your miserable childhood had anything to do with the man you became? There are studies, sir, that suggest people who grow up unloved and unpopular tend to lack compassion and become conservative.

Maine just paid a notorious conservative consultant close to a million dollars to turn out a report on the state’s welfare system, a report that seems to have taken all of a weekend to write and which Gov. Scrooge has been reluctant to release.

There is a fundamental philosophical divide between progressives and conservatives over the role of government in support of the poor, the sick and the elderly. Down in D.C., the two sides are fighting over extension of unemployment benefits. In Augusta, they are fighting over Medicaid expansion and welfare benefits. Scrooge LePage is just being a good soldier in the Republican War on the Poor.

So opposed is LePage to government-funded health insurance that his administration has turned down $256 million a year in federal funds for Medicaid expansion even though expansion would reduce state spending by $700 million and insure 70,000 Maine citizens. And while Democrats fight to expand Medicaid for people in need, LePage is focused on fighting the phantom of welfare fraud.

The governor was in the news last week, charging that between January 2011 and November 2013 there were 3,700 fraudulent uses of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, mostly to buy beer and butts. No one is in favor of fraud, but when you put the 3,700 transactions in the context of the 1.7 million transactions that occurred during that time, you see that the problem is just 2/10th of 1 percent of the total. In other words, not a problem.

Kind of reminds me of the voter fraud witch hunt Republicans went on in 2011, when they couldn’t find any.

The miserly, mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge complained to those seeking assistance for the poor that, “I help support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. … It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”

And there, dear reader, you have it – the cold, shriveled heart of the conservative doctrine of self-reliance preserved for eternity in the words of Charles Dickens. What it boils down to is “Me-my-mine. Let the poor be damned.” But that’s not the American way and it’s not the Maine way, either.

Wake up, Scrooge, before it’s too late.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.