December, 20111, From my History in Politics series:
With Christmas upon us, productions of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol, adopted for stage and screen, are popping up everywhere as they have for generations. In this redemptive tale that has so caught the imagination of the English-speaking world, Dickens has really fashioned a religious drama in which the message of Jesus during the celebration of his birth is brought home to a single individual and releases him from the mean, selfish, bitter inner misanthropic image that he projects.
Ironically, when we think of Ebenezer Scrooge, whenever we speak his name even, we conjure the first impression he makes upon us. We do not consciously acknowledge his conversion. Scrooge has become almost a noun, meaning someone who is not only a miser but also a disbeliever in the words and admonitions of Jesus Christ. The early Ebenezer neither accepts nor practices the idea of doing unto others what you would have done to yourself.
By the end of the story, however, the old gentleman has changed. A kindly side emerges. The spirit of the holiday reaches him through a series of ghosts and he arrives in the sunlight of sharing a charitable disposition with his fellow Londoners, employees and relatives. Ebenezer Scrooge is re-born, so to speak.
Consequently, keeping the final pages of A Christmas Carol in mind, a person who acts like the Scrooge of the opening pages could well be called the Anti-Scrooge.
This is a title that I feel I can confer upon Maine’s present Governor Paul Le Page. In one fell swoop just at Christmas time, he has put into the threadbare stockings of the poor and disabled of our State a massive lump of coal in the form of a draconian cut in the State’s Medicaid program. The cynicism of what he has done surely shrieks to the heavens. He claims he has to fix a hole in his budget – a hole he deliberately created through massive tax cuts, mostly benefiting our upper financial class. Indeed, here is class warfare in spades, directed against the poorest of the poor and the middle class on behalf of the richest among us.
The gap the Governor manufactured – in the neighborhood of $220 million – will now be filled in by withdrawing that amount from services primarily provided to the sick, the elderly and the disabled, which action also will deprive the State of millions more in Federal matching funds. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. Thousands of dollars of purchasing power will disappear. Church officials who testified against these cuts were, by their mere presence, reminding Maine people of December 25 and its meaning for all human beings. Their words spoke their feelings.
The Reverend Jill Job Saxby, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, an organization of Protestant denominations, stated: “We believe that a fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the most vulnerable are faring…We cannot allow thousands of Mainers to lose health care coverage at a time when many are also struggling to put food on the table, find housing or at least keep warm through the winter.”
Speaking for the Catholic Church was Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Portland who said he had “deep concerns” about the families hurt by the cuts, which could affect some or all of 65,000 persons. “Eliminating health care coverage, including the drug program, is a tremendously risky enterprise,” the Bishop said, and would “result in worsening health care, and for some, given the complexity of their condition, will lead to a premature death…Health care is a basic human right. It is no less essential than food, shelter and clothing.”
Yet so far, it seems unlikely that Governor Le Page is listening to any of these pleas. He is clearly the antithesis of the redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe there will be some lip service for Christmas, itself, from him but an iron fist for anybody who has been needing help.
When Charles Dickens wrote his story in the 1830’s, it was the time of the Industrial Revolution. Conditions in the factories were horrendous. Social services were non-existent. “Are there no work houses?” the early Scrooge exclaims when asked to contribute to charity – work houses being places where the needy went to die and were worked like slaves to exhaustion. Wages everywhere were starvation wages. And one has a sense that Governor Le Page, who had something of a Dickensian upbringing in Lewiston, has a nostalgic longing for bringing back this kind of unfettered capitalism in its rawest state. His answer to the thousands whose well-being he is uprooting is that they are all malingerers engaged in fraud,
The Anti-redeemed Scrooge is on the prowl in Augusta and many Mainers, to the shame of our fair State, will suffer as no Americans should have to suffer.
Among the newspaper photographs illustrating the day of tumultuous hearings at the State House on the Governor’s proposal, one showed a gaunt elderly man confronting a supporter of the Governor with a sign of his own on which he had hand-printed: “Ebenezer Scrooge Learned From His Mistakes. Will Le Page?”
If you listen carefully, you can hear the Governor’s reaction from his office on the State House’s second floor. “Bah humbug,” he is saying.