LePage ‘Gestapo’ comment embarrasses Maine

Posted July 09, 2012, at 5:38 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2012, at 9 a.m.
Gov. Paul LePage talks about his sense of humor while holding a poster that reads &quotThere is a bully in Augusta pushing around seniors, children and middle class families," during an interview with The Associated Press at his office at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Friday, April 27, 2012.
Pat Wellenbach
Gov. Paul LePage talks about his sense of humor while holding a poster that reads "There is a bully in Augusta pushing around seniors, children and middle class families," during an interview with The Associated Press at his office at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Friday, April 27, 2012.

It’s not unusual for Gov. Paul LePage to say something offensive off-the-cuff. But what’s disturbing about his most recent blunder, calling the Internal Revenue Service “the new Gestapo,” is that it wasn’t a slip-up. He purposefully put the language into his Saturday radio address after it was drafted by staff.

LePage was talking about President Barack Obama’s health care law, but instead of taking the time to inform Mainers about the Affordable Care Act’s benefits and challenges, he turned to painful rhetoric. His comments should be made out for what they are: an unfortunate maneuver that likely will rally conservatives.

This was not about health care:

“Now that Congress can use the taxation power of the federal government to compel behavior or lack thereof, what’s next? More taxes if we don’t drive Toyota Priuses or if we eat too much junk food or maybe even pea soup? The decision has made America less free. We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

These words have no substance or truth. Congress already has taxation power. Priuses, junk food and pea soup have nothing to do with health care and serve only as an inflammatory touch. And comparing the IRS to Nazi Germany’s secret police force is both reprehensible and inaccurate.

It’s predictable that Democrats are capitalizing on LePage’s statements (the Democratic Party sent out a mass email lambasting the governor and also asked for donations) and that Republicans are blaming them for capitalizing. But we’re disappointed that more Republicans have not decried LePage’s foul comparison and are instead supporting him.

Maybe LePage and Republican leadership underestimate the power of statements coming from the governor’s office. The backlash has been swift, and it’s quite possible LePage has not only rallied conservatives but energized Democrats.

The Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine asked LePage to retract his statements. So did Democratic leaders, bloggers and the Anti-Defamation League. The Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine pointed out that the Gestapo and IRS are nothing alike, as the Gestapo during World War II controlled police and intelligence services and cases of sabotage and espionage.

The coverage of LePage’s comments has been widespread and embarrassing to Maine — no way to encourage businesses to move here. The unfortunate matter was picked up by the Huffington Post, Fox News, CNN, the Boston Globe and across the Internet.

It’s regrettable that Maine’s governor has drawn national attention again for saying something senseless that overshadows the more important issues at hand. Instead of letting Mainers judge the intellectual validity of LePage’s argument against the Affordable Care Act, the matter has become one of emotion.

So let’s turn to the intellectual argument.

LePage said in his address that there are “still too many uncertainties for Maine to implement Obamacare.” He’s right that there are unknowns and that creating the necessary health care exchanges is complicated. But if there are too many uncertainties to carry out the law, why are other states starting the process? LePage and other Republican governors are using the uncertainties as a guise to stall implementation.

LePage had a chance to apologize publicly once he saw the far-reaching impact of his words, but instead he issued a clarifying statement, saying it was not his intent to hurt anyone. That’s akin to shoving someone and then saying you didn’t mean to offend the person. He already has apologized privately to the director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. If he truly understood the impact of the word “Gestapo,” he’d say he was sorry publicly.

As common as it is for LePage to blurt out some attacking remark, the Gestapo comment was planned insensitivity. It did nothing to further real debate about the Affordable Care Act and brought embarrassment to the state.

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