MATTHEW GAGNON

An ideological agenda

Posted Dec. 22, 2011, at 4:24 p.m.

Ideology is not a bad thing.

We all have an ideology, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. Even those who hate politics have a general vision of how they see the world, what priorities our society should have and what they think is important.

The word itself was coined by Destutt de Tracy in the late 18th century. As you can probably guess, the root came from the word “idea,” and was meant to refer to what he called the “science of ideas.”

Our conceptualization of the world around us drives our opinion on the problems and issues we encounter, and defines our reaction to them. That is true of every single one of us, no matter our political identity.

Those on the political right distrust the government, believing that it is inefficient, incompetent, full of waste and encourages dependency. Those on the political left believe the government can be an agent of good, and that the market should be viewed with suspicion.

I wonder, then, why it comes as such a shock that a person’s ideology would come into play when that person is in a position of power.

Gov. LePage recently announced serious financial problems at the Department of Health and Human Services. A massive structural hole was identified, and LePage recommended a series of cuts to address it. Almost immediately, the entirety of the left-wing echo chamber sprung into action decrying the governor’s actions as unfair.

In those criticisms, the most repeated argument I heard was that the governor was using a crisis at DHHS as an excuse to implement an ideological agenda.

The governor believes that increasing taxes in a downturn would do further damage to the economy. He believes that the reason the DHHS problem exists is because the Baldacci administration used irresponsible and unsustainable accounting gimmicks to balance the budget. He believes that Maine’s benefit system encourages perpetual and unending dependency which is to the benefit of neither the state nor its people.

He believes this. Just as strongly as the left believes the exact opposite.

Why then are we surprised by his chosen remedy? Why assign some kind of nefarious motive to what is very obviously a course of action dictated by his worldview? LePage isn’t using a crisis as an excuse to implement his ideological agenda, his ideological agenda is dictating his response to that crisis.

For eight years, the Baldacci administration and the Democrats controlled Maine government, and similarly based all of their decisions on their own ideology.

DHHS has been languishing in quicksand for years. Baldacci and his cabal believed that Maine should have more generous benefits, and that cutting those benefits was out of the question, even when the state was struggling to pay for it.

Was it any surprise then, that when he and his Democratic Legislature were afforded an opportunity (through short-term stimulus pork) to have their cake and eat it too, that they punted by keeping benefits and funding in place, knowing it wasn’t sustainable?

Of course not. The left believes that it is inherently moral for the government to be doing what it was doing, so when they were given an opportunity to keep the gravy train running while making it harder for future administrations to put the government on a diet, they took it.

Interesting that no one really described Gov. Baldacci or his Legislature as using the situation to implement and sustain an ideological agenda, propping up his belief in a large and activist government.

No, I suppose the only ones who cynically use circumstances to benefit their own ideological worldview are those on the right.

No, Gov. LePage didn’t use a crisis at DHHS to implement his philosophical master plan. His ideology – just like our own – drives his interpretation and reaction to the problems he faces. If you don’t like those solutions, then by all means attack them to your heart’s content.

But critics do not exist on some kind of higher moral plane of existence with their opinions unpolluted by ideology. Rather, they are a lot more like those they criticize than they would ever be comfortable admitting.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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