WHY WERE WE THERE?
A car load of us from the Bath area went to the state capital in Augusta today for a rally opposing more cutbacks in health care for the elderly, poor, and nearly poor. Our Tea-bag governor is proposing to cut $220 million from Medicaid which will impact 65,000 people across Maine (state population is about 1.4 million). The rally drew a couple hundred folks from many constituencies that will be hit by the cuts.
There were about a dozen of us sprinkled throughout the crowd with signs making the deadly connections between tax policy, war spending and the war on social progress. My sign read: End the Wars, Tax the Rich, Fund Human Needs.
(Thanks to Mark Roman from the Bring Our War $$ Home Campaign our banner got hung at the top of the stairs behind the speakers podium at the rally.)
The speakers all made nice speeches - don't cut health care, budgets are moral documents - but none of them gave a hint of a suggestion as to what could be done otherwise to fund these important programs. Last year the Maine State Legislature passed tax cuts for the rich and some Democrats, including my own State Senator Seth Goodall (a Democrat) voted along with the Republicans for these shameful tax cuts. Now guess what? Our fiscal crisis is even worse so more social spending cuts are needed we are being told.
The rally today was organized by the group called Maine Can Do Better and that is their basic message - Maine can do better than make cuts against the poor. This organization is a loose network of social service providers, churches, unions - the basic Democratic Party constituency. The lead group is Engage Maine which is coordinated by Ben Dudley who was a state representative from Portland and served as Chairman and CEO of the Maine Democratic Party a few years back.
It is my opinion that the Democrats in Maine are timid around the operative question of "revenues" to pay for these social programs that are being slashed. Some of their own members in the legislature have voted to cut taxes on the rich so at the rally those words were never heard. These same Democrats also don't want to go near the war spending issue either so there was no way those words would ever be muttered at such a rally.
In fact we've tried to engage with Engage Maine on the war spending issue. A couple of years ago Michael Brennan (one of the few Democrats who gets it and just elected Mayor of Portland) set up a meeting for Karen Wainberg, Mary Beth Sullivan and me with Ben Dudley to discuss working together on the war spending issue. Engage Maine rejected the idea.
So one is left to wonder - what do the Democrats propose? They say these Medicaid cuts are wrong but they, and the organizations they essentially control across the state, don't offer a funding solution.
You'd think that if they had a plan they'd have utilized this golden opportunity today when a couple hundred people gathered inside the capital Hall of Flags to brief them on their plan and send them home to build support for it. But nothing like that was done.
It feels to me like this was a rally to let off steam and to paint the Republicans, who now control the state, as the bad guys. The unspoken message is clear - next election put the Democrats back in charge and they will fix things. But the truth is that these cuts in social programs began in earnest during the past Democrat Gov. Baldacci administration who had a Democrat controlled state legislature.
It appears these well meaning people who showed up in Augusta today are being used by the Democrats. They are bridled and led around like a show horse but are never turned loose to run free and wild. To do so would mean that these restive folks might just turn on both parties and make these "radical" demands - tax the rich and end these wars.
The telling moments were at the beginning and end of the rally. The moderator's first words were "Today we are here not for a political agenda." That became obvious enough.
Her parting words were to thank the crowd for being the politest rally she had ever seen. No shouting, no chanting, no impatience, no real political demands....good boys and girls. Just the way both parties like it.