The Universal Notebook: Just call him Gov. Scrooge

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When Gov. Paul LePage unveiled his plan to drop 65,000 Maine citizens from the rolls of MaineCare last week in order to close a projected $221 million Department of Health and Human Services deficit, one of the online comments called the bad news LePage’s “Christmas card to the 99 percent.”

To learn that you suddenly have no health insurance is devastating any time of year, but it is particularly painful at Christmas time, a traditional season of charitable giving.

LePage came into office a year ago promising to put “people before politics.” What he didn’t say is that he was also going to put “profit before people.” With conservatives, it’s always about the money. Not how to raise more in order to take care of people, but how to save more even if it hurts a lot of people.

For his heartless MaineCare proposal, therefore, I nominate LePage for the 2011 Ebenezer Scrooge Award, recognizing a man who, in the words of Charles Dickens “was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone.”

“Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Sound like someone who lives in the Blaine House?

No doubt there is a need to balance budgets and close deficits, but doing it on the backs of the poor, the elderly and the destitute is particularly Scroogeian, betraying an underlying conservative prejudice that says “I’ve got mine, to hell with you.”

Approached for a donation to the poor, we recall, Mr. Scrooge asked, “Are there no prisons?”

“Plenty of prisons,” came the reply.

“And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still. I wish I could say they are not.”

Scrooge then tells the gentlemen soliciting alms, “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I mentioned; they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

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

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Ebenezer Scrooge would be one of those hard-hearted skinflints cheering Republican presidential candidates who admit that, on principle, they would let the uninsured die.

While the majority of Mainers would gladly be rid of LePage, the whole point of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is that people can change. Wouldn’t it be wondrous if  LePage had a vision of what the future might bring, of how he would be remembered or, more likely, forgotten.

“Spirit! Hear! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”

The world does not revere or love tight-fisted, self-serving tough guys who slash budgets and cut spending. Balancing budgets will not get you into history let alone heaven. The person LePage should aspire to be is compassionate, generous, self-sacrificing, a champion of the underdog.

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any many alive possessed the knowledge.”

That’s who the redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge became.

There’s still hope for Paul LePage.

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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.