That’s a Deep Thought. Well, more specifically, it is the result given by a supercomputer called “Deep Thought” as the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything” in the famous book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams.
That strange and esoteric response led Deep Thought to explain to its creators that the answer seems meaningless because they didn’t know the proper question to ask. That parable is instructive today.
No matter what problems we face, we can expect easy answers from all corners. In the case of the Las Vegas shootings, you see calls for background checks, outlawing suppressors, and limits on magazine size. None of these proposals would have prevented the attack. Anyone without a criminal history, willing to acquire over 40 firearms, and spend days in a hotel room planning to commit violence will not be stopped by any of those proposed laws.
In a different vein, November will see Question 2 on the ballot, brought to you by the same organization who pushed last November’s now-repealed income tax hike and tipped wage phaseout. This year’s proposal seeks to expand MaineCare to adults “who are under 65 years of age, not pregnant,” not entitled to other benefits and earning up to 133 percent of the federally-established poverty limit. To un-legalese that, it means individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 who are not pregnant, able-bodied, and without children.
Its proponents offer the plan as a way to help ensure more people in Maine can receive health care. That is a worthy goal, but a simple “yes” vote is an easy answer. Using the best-case cost scenario, it will require an additional $110 million in state funds to be spent for this program in every two-year budget, plus over $1 billion in new federal spending. If Washington decides to walk back its share of the cost or the projections don’t mesh with reality, Augusta will need to pick up the slack or tell people their benefits are going away.
And, of course, we’ve done this before; Maine undertook a concerted effort to expand its MaineCare rolls under Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci. They couldn’t find a way to pay for that effort, sticking our hospitals with nearly $500 million of I.O.U.s. Chasing “free” federal money is an easy answer to real problems and issues facing Mainers, but that doesn’t make it necessarily the right one.
Whatever the challenges we face, the issues are complicated. Leah Libresco’s piece in the Washington Post and Bangor Daily News highlights this reality. A statistician and former writer for FiveThirtyEight, she held an innate position in favor of “gun control,” however defined. Yet, as she moved away from offering answers and began asking questions, her view changed. She realized that the factors giving rise to gun violence don’t align with the popular policy prescriptions offered to solve them; the answers weren’t so easy.
Real, true, honest action needs to begin with questions, not answers. As Libresco found, the road may lead to an unexpected destination.
When it comes to health coverage, those a bit towards the right might ask why childless, able-bodied adults under 65 don’t already have coverage, particularly when we are at near historic lows in unemployment in Maine. It may lead to an exploration of those who choose not to participate in the workforce, shining light on the epidemic of some young men hiding themselves in fictional game worlds. And might lead to different solutions to get them into the employment market and pay for their own coverage.
For the Maine People’s Alliance, that same query may bring them right back to an expansion of government-run health care.
That’s the reality; we may all ask the same questions and still come up with different answers. But sometimes those answers can surprise us and lead to reconsideration of our views. Which is good, because it means we’re asking the right questions.
Otherwise, we’re probably just left with 42. Whatever that is.
Don’t you wish you knew the question?