Tragedy of Marissa Kennedy's death has a buck-passing epilogue.
"It was a comedy of errors.”
Those are words chosen by Gov. LePage after 10 days of silence on the murder of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy and the bungling and incompetence by the Department of Health and Human Services, an agency under management by the executive branch.
“Comedy” is an interesting word choice. In a theatrical comedy, there is triumph over adversity. Comedy is intended to make people laugh. The death of Marissa Kennedy on Feb. 25, 2018, was a tragedy, as was the death of Kendall Chick on Dec. 8, 2017. It’s no surprise, either, that these girls and their families were dirt poor. America’s poorest kids have much higher risk of dying from child abuse than wealthier children according to a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics in April 2017. Poverty is associated with increased rates of child abuse fatalities.
Under the LePage administration the proportion of children living in deep poverty in Maine has increased at eight times the national average – faster than in any other state – between 2011 and 2015. This is a tragedy.
Maine’s infant mortality rate has increased by 20 percent since 2013. This is a tragedy.
In the play “A Comedy of Errors” by William Shakespeare, there is slapstick humor and wordplay arising from the mistaken identity of two sets of twins separated at birth. Maybe when Paul LePage described the state’s response to an innocent child falling through the cracks with no safety net underneath he was thinking about Trevor and Taren Bragdon and Sam and Nick Adolphson, two sets of anti-government brothers with no real world experience or specialized education in the field of social services. But they were nevertheless given the reins by LePage to run amok with a red pen and cut any program that whiffed of welfare, even the ones working to reduce child suffering.
These guys now run “free market” think tanks with fancy names like the Foundation for Government Accountability and Rockwood Solutions, and produce “research papers” selling the secrets of Maine’s welfare “reforms” and urging others to “build on the success” of our failed system. The architects of Maine’s failing child welfare policies are selling their experience under the Lepage administration gutting social welfare programs to other Republicans around the country and the Trump administration. Characters all over like the Adolphsen and Bragdon boys go from being college gadfly to campaign hack to anti-government bureaucrat to nonprofit “director” and so-called expert of the so-called free market. This is how the GOP hamburger is made. There’s not a lot of beef.
The same social safety-net slashers that shaped Paul LePage’s welfare reform policies, which resulted in increased child poverty and insecurity by drawing a line between the deserving and the undeserving poor, are taking their show on the road. This is a tragedy.
What Paul LePage and his henchmen could have said in response to the Marissa Kennedy murder is, “The buck stops here.” Instead, with sugar-eating grins, they boast of their budget-cutting frenzy. “The bucks stopped here, boys!” they happily shout still from their online rooftops in their reports. These guys are fixated on imaginary cash “saved” by their efforts (as if this can save us) and budget lines gutted, and they are buoyed by the sound of the word “surplus” when it rolls off their tongues.
Now with the spotlight on their inexcusable dereliction of duty to actually do the job of running an effective government agency – now that their failed leadership is front and center – they all pass the buck.
Like football great Lou Holtz said: “The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.”
Some people blame; other people lead. Instead of taking responsibility for the state’s failure to protect Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick and all the other poor kids who were abused and neglected on his watch, LePage blames our part-time Legislature and others for dropping the ball.
What’s past is prologue. People who hate government suck at it.
There is no free market solution to child abuse. What’s needed – and within reason to expect from a democratic government – is a program designed to protect vulnerable children and not serve as an example of how to strangle a program in a bathtub. You don’t need to be a Republican to want efficiency in government – we all want that. What we all should demand is a system that reflects the aspirations and competence of a compassionate, educated and affluent society.
There is nothing “pro-life” about literally and figuratively starving children to death in Maine. We should not accept a discount version of bad policy or Dickensian-type poverty of children struggling in our state but out of our view. What good government needs is good people on the job who bring an entrepreneurial attitude to public policy with real world experience.
What we have are political gamers who serve up red meat in reports and “research” who have done nothing to show real world success at solving problems and improving the human condition.
The tragedy of Maine policy is up for grabs in the coming elections. Beware of the farce peddled by candidates touting disdain for government and an eagerness to slash the social welfare system in the name of fiscal conservatism.
It’s a fool’s tale told by idiots who got their start in Maine under the administration of Paul LePage, winner of the blame game.
As published in the Portland Press Herald