Couple weeks back, Martha gave Big George some extremely helpful political cover. From the Rainville camp’s May 16 press release:
“Republican U.S. House candidate Martha T. Rainville announced her support of President Bush’s plan to send 6,000 National Guard troops to temporarily help secure the United States’ southern border against illegal immigrants.”
How embarrassing would it have been, VDB wonders, to have a Republican candidate, a former Vermont Guard Adjutant General in a left-leaning state, come out and denounce this new plan for the Federal boondoggle that it is? Especially with the President’s wife about to visit said Blue state three days later?
Pretty god-awful embarrassing.
So we might reasonably expect that the White House folks got on the horn to Martha’s folks, especially since they had to iron out all the pesky details of Laura’s visit anyway.
Now, VDB has no proof of White House arm-twisting. But put that reasonable surmise aside. The long and short of it is that Martha has come out in full-throated support of sending Vermont Guard troops to patrol the Southern border — “temporarily.”
Of course, in the Bush lexicon, “temporary” means “until the cows come home.”
Last we checked, about 135,000 troops — many of them National Guard — are still playing IED-tag in Iraq, while another 10,000-20,000 battle a renewed and violent Taliban threat in Afghanistan. This year is shaping up to be the most violent yet for both military campaigns, and our deployments there are now discussed in terms of decades rather than months or years.
And stop-loss policies make certain that “temporary” continues to mean “semi-permanent.” But Martha Rainville expresses not a hint of concern.
This sort of smile-and-salute response to madness marked — and marred — Rainville’s last three years with the Vermont Guard. Other National Guard higher-ups spoke out against Bush’s depletion of their resources, most notably those in the Southern states hit hard by Katrina.
Not Martha. Martha goes along to get along. Which means hundreds more Vermonters headed out of state, to pursue another politically-inspired mission cobbled together by an inept civilian leadership.
For those of you still casually denying that there’s any significant difference between Rainville and Welch, or Republicans and Democrats, here’s an excerpt from Welch’s press release:
“Our Guard members are currently serving extended tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are providing critical relief in times of national disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. And, they continue to play a vital role in homeland security and local disaster relief.
“The Guard has met each challenge and fulfilled their duty with distinction. Still, we must ask how the Guard can continue to fill these vital roles, while adding another major responsibility. As many have noted, including Senator Leahy and Senator McCain, the National Guard is stretched thin.
“We must have a national policy that secures our borders, but the long-term use of the Guard for border patrol is misguided.”
Left to his own devices, Bush will break the National Guard. And Martha Rainville clearly plans to leave Bush to his own devices.
Look at it this way: George W. Bush, following in his father’s footsteps, clearly views the National Guard as his personal toy. And he has demonstrated over the last three years that once he has toys in his possession, he doesn’t play well with others. Far from it.
In such a case, you need an adult to enter the room, take the toys away, and put them back in their proper place.
It’s Memorial Day, and I was in the office with work to do — but why not blog a little first, I told myself.
And somehow I found myself doing what I’d yet to do thus far in this campaign cycle: watching Rich Tarrant’s 10 campaign commercials back to back, as they were meant to be watched.
It was a surprisingly sobering experience.
Why? Well, VDB hasn’t been bashful about deriding the commercials in the past. We’ve argued consistently that the spots are too glossy, and biography-heavy. And we’ve argued that the palpable quality of the ads contrasts disastrously with the actual mechanics of the campaign.
From late January, in which we compared Tarrant to the Bumble from Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer (it’s a long story):
“Much money has been spent on planning these images, and the relationship between them. Much money.
“More than I make in a year, more than you make in a year, just on planning, drafting, story-boarding these long imagistic sequences. Leaves, lay-ups, long shots of a tall gentle man surrounded by children.
“It’s against this backdrop that Rich Tarrant seems so breath-takingly clumsy thus far.”
You get the picture: Tarrant is destined to lose, we’ve argued, not in spite of the commercials, but in a sense because of the commercials — because they inadvertently advertise his wealth, and the image-only quality of his campaign.
But watching the sequence in its entirety this morning, from 1-10, I had a much better sense of the strategy, and it gave me serious pause.
Why? Because I’m a novelist, and the commercial sequence is not an ad campaign in the conventional sense. It’s a novel, told in serial form.
Before film, novels were the technology best suited for placing readers in the point of view of another human being, and they used long, attenuated narrative lines to mimic the slow passage of time. In other words, you lived another person’s life in something that felt oddly like real time.
Tarrant’s campaign uses film to accentuate that effect, to make it happen in the span of sequenced minutes, albeit minutes repeated endlessly over the space of months.
All of Tarrant’s commercials begin with a scrap of connective text in the upper left-hand corner, linking the viewer to the last “episode”; each ends with a teaser for the next episode. And all of the episodes are designed to strengthen and deepen the overall, cumulative experience.
And that’s where my shiver of doubt originates, with the cumulative effect. Like any novel, the sequence is designed to lay hold of the reader’s emotions early, and keep them moving through the unfolding events. But those events conspire to produce a stronger flash of empathy — and a flash of understanding, an epiphany — at some point not too far from the final page.
In other words, we might expect that flash of empathy from the viewers, the voters, any time now — assuming that Tarrant’s wizards have gauged and focus-grouped their targets accurately.
Which leads to a fairly unsettling conclusion: the next major poll will almost inevitably show a dramatic tightening of the race — or a tightening of the race the Tarrant camp will be able to credibly portray as dramatic.
If Bernie is up now by 35%, we might reasonably expect that lead to dwindle to anywhere from 15 to 20%. And of course, this new campaign dynamic, and the stories it generates, feed back into and reinforce the long storyline put forward in the commercials.
Again, this entire line of thinking is driven by a faith I can’t help but have in the process of novelization itself. Maybe that faith is misplaced; I’ve been writing the things for 20 years, after all, and it hasn’t put me in the Senate, or on Easy Street.
But watch the sequence back to back, if you have a few minutes this week. It will remind you that Bernie is not a lock; there’s no such thing in the race for a United States Senate seat. Much work still remains to be done.
And the nail-biting won’t stop before Election Day: if I were writing the Tarrant novel, I’d have a special, climactic installment prepared for that last crucial week. Something to bring all the previous narrative elements into play, elements hundreds of thousands of Vermonters are now carrying around in their subconscious minds, each elegantly crafted, each painstakingly sequenced.
And each rounded off with the bittersweet strains of a fiddle, playing somewhere away inside the red barn that always hovers just to one side of Tarrant’s tanned, smiling face.
My “Yahoo Home Page” has a section called “Top Vermont Stories.” Amazingly, the top story for yesterday was your Bloggers’ Barbeque.
Apparently that’s what happens when you threaten a community with fire and meat and condiments, and the curdled cream of Vermont’s political community: much love from Yahoo! (Thanks to 802 Online, as well, for spreading the word. There is no greater love than links.)
The Dead Governors over at Politics VT have been gracious enough to forward yesterday’s VDB/GMD political barbeque teaser. And they dropped in this intriguing little bit: “You never know, the members of the Capitol Bureau may make a grand entrance…”
VDB can only hope this is a serious proposal. Politics VT has been a mainstay of the cyber-political universe in Vermont, but — at least as things stand — the site is slated for closure in 2007.
At some point, it would be nice to be able to thank the people involved with it over these last few years. It would be nice to able to thank them as themselves, rather than as Ira or Edna or Red.
And no one loves drama more than VDB.
We imagine it like this: everyone loosely grouped around a series of picnic tables, sweating journalists and bloggers and politics junkies, mouths smeared with BBQ sauce, shoes damp with flat beer. Talk is at a fever pitch.
And then, as the sun is reaching its apex, making the lake shine like a Kennedy half dollar, a long black sedan pulls into the parking lot.
Eight men and women get out of the car. Their sneakers make no sound in the dirt.
As they walk toward the gathering, it becomes clear that each is wearing a plastic mask. Ira wears an Ira Allen mask; Edna an Edna. Each of the Capitol Gang is wearing the plastic face of his or her internet cover. Even Jonas Galusha is there, carrying a six-pack of Zima.
And when they reach the tables, they stop, and so does every conversation. And then, in the silence, the Capitol Gang all reach up and remove their masks.
Like the climactic moment of every Batman movie — when the Joker reaches for the Caped Crusader’s mask — except this time the masks actually come off.
Saw a woman walking a filthy pot-bellied pig down Church Street today, always the first undeniable hint of summer.
As some of you know, we’ve been fiddling with the idea of throwing a barbeque for Vermont’s political blogosphere for a while. As of this morning, it’s a go.
And because we expect not only political bloggers but blog readers, active political candidates, underfed campaign staff, journalists, moaners, kvetchers, and junkies of all stripes — more than even the mightiest single site could handle — VDB will partner with Green Mountain Daily to bring you the event.
The key information:
First Annual VDB/GMD Political Barbeque
and Hamburger Summit
When: July 9, 2-6
Where: North Beach, Burlington, Vermont
Who: You (and Us)
More information will be forthcoming as the event comes together, and you can always email VDB or GMD with questions or with an RSVP.
But save the date. It should be a hot time. And who knows? Maybe we’ll all have a drink or two, haul out our shotguns, and pepper an elderly lobbyist, just for the sheer madcap fun of it.
Watched a segment of Al Gore’s this afternoon, the interview timed to coincide with the release of An Inconvenient Truth, of course.
And the man is good.
Maybe it’s just VDB, but Gore comes across with an authority that we feel in no other candidate — none of the fecklessness of Reid and Pelosi. You have the sense that Gore is a force to be reckoned with, that he means business.
And you feel for him, to put it mildly. As VDB has argued recently, that feeling may make all the difference.
To come at that feeling another way, here’s a piece written not long after Gore threw in the towel on the 2000 election. The title speaks for itself.
Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #56: Big Lost Al
The calls always come late at night, long after the witching hour, after the bars have closed in Toledo and White Sands and Pheonix and Barstow, all the time zones on the left side of the United States of America.
And when they come, these calls, the ringing phone sounds like a blue-tick hound that’s stepped on a nail — a wounded yelp of a ring, a sound shot through with injury and injustice.
And when I hear that sound, I know that the man cradling the receiver on the other end of the four-and-a-half-thousand-mile-long fiber optic filament attached to my telephone is Albert Gore, Jr.
He took losing the Presidential Election of 2000 hard, very hard.
For McGovern and Mondale and for Michael Dukakis, it was hard, but it was easy — they each lost by so much that they could tell themselves nothing would have helped. Their rejection by the voters was total and conclusive.
But Al knows different. Al knows that anything and everything could have helped.
If Elian Gonzales hadn’t washed up on the Florida coast on Thanksgiving day of all days. If Elian had washed up on Groundhog day, or Boxing Day.
If Al’s makeup in the first debate had borne a stronger resemblance to human flesh.
You couldn’t make up a complete bowling team with the number of voters who preferred Bush to Al Gore in Florida, and this knowledge has taken its toll.
Somewhere in the down-time after Christmas, those shapeless days
before New Years, Al crept out of the house one night without a word to his sleeping wife and children. From the garage he rolled a big Harley Davidson, purchased secretly the week before on Ebay.
The bike is not one of the new Harleys built for doctors and architects and weekend warriors, no custom sportster or Electra Glide. The bike Al mounted in late December was a classic sixties Dreamliner, a truly powerful beast, chopped down low and fitted with handle bars like a massive chrome divining rod.
Al has not gone in search of himself, he has gone in search of
Unthinkingly, reflexively, he is returning to all of the spots he covered or failed to cover on the campaign trail, idling the big hog along through the crowds in Harvard Square and down the Strip in Reno, searching the faces.
The strict campaign diet is gone, replaced by a vague self-loathing that leads him to eat and eat and eat, and to eat all of the worst foods that America sells in all of the places close to the road. He lives on Little Debbie cakes and fried clam rolls, slushies and micro-wave burritos.
From his fighting weight of 215 in November, Al has ballooned in less than three months to 294 pounds. His face is now padded with unshaven flesh, the cheekbones and the hunky chin nearly buried. And although it’s far too small for him to button, Al never takes off a sleeveless Harley vest he won playing nine-ball with a punch-drunk ex-con in Bakersfield.
He is out there, Albert Gore Jr., big lost Al, and it tears at my heart when I hear the eighteen-wheelers screaming by the streaky windows of his little payphone, or when I hear him scrambling to deposit more coins when the operator breaks in our conversations.
He calls me when he can’t stand the chorus of his own thoughts anymore. And he calls me when the headline from a USA Today box leaps out at him as he exits a Dennys: Bush Reverses Stance on Carbon Dioxide; Bush Sets Aside Regulations on Arsenic in Drinking Water; Bush to Pull Out of Global Warming Treaty.
“Why,” he’ll whisper to me over the phone, and I’ll sit in my
darkened house, long past four in the morning, and I’ll search my mind but come up with nothing.
“I don’t know, Al,” I’ll say. “Nobody knows.” And then I’ll hear a siren and a scream off in the distance, and I’ll say, “Al, are you okay out there?”
There’ll be a pause, and Al will come back on the line.
“I’m okay,” he tells me, but there’s never any conviction to it. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” he’ll whisper then.
And that’s when I want to tell him that I do, that these last few weeks with George W. Bush have taught me exactly who ex-Vice President Albert Gore Jr. really is, but that’s when the line always just suddenly goes dead.
[This piece aired previously on Vermont Public Radio.]
Some people — regardless of whatever else they may have done or failed to do — latch on to a piece of your heart with the act of a single moment.
That’s the way I feel about Lloyd Bentsen, running mate of the ill-fated Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Bentsen produced the only Vice Presidential debate knock-out I’ve ever seen live (although Dick Cheney beat up pretty heavily on Joe Lieberman in 2000). If you missed it, or if you somehow managed never to hear tell of it, the moment went like this:
Dan Quayle had been asked several times about his qualifications not simply to be Vice President, but to be President in the event of a catastrophic emergency. Quayle’s answer is a model of puffery, and couldn’t demonstrate any more clearly his basic ineptitude — throughout the debate he asserted that he would be “on a first-name basis” with world leaders and functionaries in the White House, and this would make all the difference.
And Bentsen’s answer is so devastating that it went on to become a political byword, a generic put-down for any political poser.
Here’s the audio — not quite the same without seeing the spooked look on Quayle’s face after he gets tagged, but still very, very satisfying.
And here’s the relevant part of the transcript:
Quayle:Three times that I’ve had this question — and I will try to answer it again for you, as clearly as I can, because the question you are asking is what kind of qualifications does Dan Quayle have to be president, what kind of qualifications do I have and what would I do in this kind of a situation. And what would I do in this situation?
I would make sure that the people in the cabinet and the people that are advisors to the president are called in, and I would talk to them, and I will work with them.
And I will know them on a firsthand basis, because as vice president I will sit on the National Security Council. And I will know them on a firsthand basis, because I’m going to be coordinating the drug effort. I will know them on a firsthand basis because Vice President George Bush is going to recreate the Space Council, and I will be in charge of that. I will have day-to-day activities with all the people in government. And then, if that unfortunate situation happens - if that situation, which would be very tragic, happens, I will be prepared to carry out the responsibilities of the presidency of the United States of America. And I will be prepared to do that.
I will be prepared not only because of my service in the Congress, but because of my ability to communicate and to lead. It is not just age; it’s accomplishments, it’s experience. I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.
Judy Woodruff:Senator Bentsen.
Bentsen:Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy. [Prolonged boos and applause]
Of course, it was Quayle who went on to the Vice Presidency, but from there he became a global synonym for stupidity; Bentsen, for his part, went on to be remembered as the man who delivered the most withering political put-down in history.
Not a bad outcome, given the options. Rest in peace, Lloyd. That was a big pitch you hit.
Most every May for the last ten or tweleve years, I’ve driven up into the mountains to the Breadloaf campus in Ripton to teach at the New England Young Writers Conference — a.k.a. Baby Breadloaf.
The students are supremely talented high school juniors; the other writers are the best New England has to offer. You’re deep in the woods, high in the mountains. And they feed you fried chicken and manicotti at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s intense, dude.
This year I decided to run a blogging workshop, and not surprisingly half the writers and students in the room knew more about it than I did. And everyone in the room was very politically aware, almost itching for action: a self-selected group of proto-activists.
So after some set-up, and an introduction to the various underlying Principles of VDB, I threw out a complete set of the day’s newspapers and tasked them with blogging a story they found intriguing. Among the papers: The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, NY Daily News, and The Burlington Free Press.
The upshot? With one or two exceptions, they all wrote about immigration: the politics of it, the practical implications of fencing and militarizing the Southern border, the bad faith of using the issue as an election-year wedge.
An unscientific sample if ever there was one, but worth thinking about: Republicans have succeeded, clearly, in making illegal immigration and their response to it the dominant issue of the moment.
Not only were all the papers mentioned above featuring the story, but all the 17-year-olds in the room found it the most intriguing, the most worthy of comment.
Of course, by and large those comments were critical — to say the least.
Part One: America, The Gated Community
Caitria went at it by way of misdirection:
“I used to share a room with a sister whose things had the unfortunate tendency to wander across the implied border onto my side of the room. The easy remedy: build a fence spanning approximately 1/5 of the distance. Of course, that will solve any problem of this nature.
“Using this age-old and well-proven method of border protection, the Senate has just approved a measure calling for 370 miles of border fencing to remedy the problem of illegal immigration, according to the Boston Globe. Three-hundred-seventy miles, of an approximately 2000-mile border. Hell, one in five is still something, optimists will say.
“Of course, this wouldn’t be a real border drama without firearms, so Bush announced on Tuesday that he would ‘send up’ 6,000 National Guard troops along the US/Mexican border as well. Nothing says inter-country relations are thriving like fences and firepower.”
Sam from New Haven actually went at it from the POV of the fence (don’t try this at home):
“I am steel creased into thin folds, welded into sharp points and square spaces. And soon I will grow like an apical meristem, soon I will fill the sandy spaces, and I will be 2,000 miles long.
“But I am tired, the more I grow the more I feel sick. There are holes in my flanks now, and I feel like a piece of swiss cheese, there is air blowing through me. And now I know why my East Berlin father was torn to pieces, lugged away by the very demons he fed on, and I am worried.”
Part Two: America, the Divided
But two of the most intriguing pieces focused not on the two sides of the imagined border fence, but on the two sides of the nation’s political landscape.
In a piece called “Homeostatic Loop,” Seth from Ripton argued that blogs are doing serious damage to our political discourse:
“There’s a concept in biology called a homeostatic loop. Basically, it’s a mechanism or system meant to keep the environment inside a living being stable. If your temperature gets too high, for example, mechanisms like sweating kick in to cool you off.
“There’s a different kind of feedback loop, too: a positive loop. This is a classic vicious cycle, a reaction that makes the original problem worse. The HIV virus, for example, destroy’s the victim’s immune system, making the hapless sufferer even more vulnerable.
“Blogs have created just such a self-destructive loop in modern politics.
“Rather than opening up the field of political discourse to populism, blogs just lever their readers farther apart — well, mostly. You can keep reading opinion pieces, but do your part for homeostasis: try crossing the divide.”
And Andrew, a chaperone at the event as well as a very advanced political science type from Middlebury, had this to say:
“If caricature is the weapon of choice in American politics, both parties are bolstering their arsenal. The debate over immigration is rhetorically polarized, as Republicans denounce “amnesty” and Democrats condemn “militarized borders” and totalitarian border controls. Neither side is truly advocating either perspective but attempting to paint their opponents into a policy that is untenable to voters.
“For the sake of clarity consider three truisms that seem to cross party lines:
“1) There are millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, and it is ridiculous to think that we can deport them all, and naïve to think that more than a small minority even desire this outcome.
“2) The nature of international drug trafficking, national security, and limited resources for social programming demand meaningful border security.
“3) Illegal immigrants are abused in the American economy and deserve protection — whether it is from manipulative businesses or false hopes.”
In other words, Andrew argues, Republican security concerns and Democratic labor issues must make up any comprehensive solution. He goes on to argue that President Bush has placed himself quite skillfully at the working center of a vastly complicated political problem, and that Democrats should support him in pursuing “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Somehow I was with Andrew until this last connection — my own take is that Bush has pandered to the worst elements of his party — but like the rest of the pieces in the Harvest, it was carefully constructed and passionately argued.
Part Three: America, the Googled
And Marie from Reading, Massachusetts, handed me this as she walked out the door, with a little smile on her face:
“Fun Little Fact.
“Google ‘Failure.’ Click the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button. It will bring you to our dear President’s biography page.
“That’s all I have to say.”
What can I tell you, friends — the hope of the future. And a bountiful harvest this year. For which VDB gives thanks.
Late Update: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.
Among other interesting folk I met up on the mountain this past weekend was science fiction writer Jeffrey Carver, of Eternity’s End and The Chaos Chronicles fame. Jeff sat in on the blogging workshop, and then today sent on a link to a blog of his own, Pushing a Snake Up a Hill.
In this entry, he argues that Bush is an alien. And sells it.
You have to love a Harvest that never really ends.
They keep a sharp eye peeled over at Newsache: Mischa writes that America’s #1 spook John Negroponte is coming to Vermont.
That’s right: Ambassador “Tap-’em/Slap-’em” Negroponte will be delivering the commencement address at St. Johnsbury Academy on the 5th of June. His son is graduating, and apparently Negroponte felt it was time to give something back — no, turns out it’s not privacy or the right to be secure in your homes and persons. Just a speech.
Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. Anybody going to attend the commencement? Anybody heading up to protest?
Let VDB know.
Together, we’ll see if we can’t chronicle the event with all the dignity it deserves.
So it’s official: the Rainville campaign has had what might be called a troubled first phase. Why is it official? Because Martha done said so.
Speaking to The Hill — on the questions of accepting tainted GOP PAC money, about-facing on firing Donald Henry Rumsfeld, and just refusing to state positions on the key issues of the day — Rainville put it politely:
“I think all of those are examples of learning how to state what you think very clearly and succinctly, even when you feel that the issue is really a little more complex than might be easily reflected in a brief statement. I am learning that.”
Now, what typically happens in a high-profile race when the locals screw the pooch, as my friends down South like to say? The national leadership sends in some get-tough guys, and the tactics change. And they change quickly. They go negative.
So if Phase One was the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, we might expect Phase Two to be the Gang Who Shoot Everyone in Sight.
Case in point: anyone seen Bill Noyes lately?
After fine-tuning the disastrous “no-fingerpointing” strategy, Noyes seems to have been disappeared — disappeared with what would be alarming rapidity, if Bill Noyes hadn’t so clearly needed to be disappeared.
Yes, Phase Two is definitely under way.
Case in point the second: the Rainville camp ran its first black-op today. Only it turned out to be a sort of charcoal-gray-op. Or really more like a dark-sort-of-tan-op.
VDB has never been good with colors.
But the facts of the incident are these.
Earlier today Democrat Peter Welch was holding a press conference with a group of Vermont women, to discuss the various policy implications of a Republican majority in Congress.
When it came time to distribute the press releases to the media, a young guy steps up, sort of a pugnacious look on his face, won’t say who he’s with press-wise, and then — when Welch begins to speak — hauls out a hand-held tape recorder.
Doesn’t take rocket science, my friends. Especially not when you catch a photo of the get-away car. Or the get-away SUV, rather.
For the longest time, tinfoil-hat Republicans muttered darkly about black helicopters, swooping down on their ranches and branding all of their cattle with Bill Clinton’s name, that sort of thing.
VDB is beginning to develop a particularly left-wing paranoia: that out there on the roads, 24/7, a fleet of environmentally unfriendly vehicles are plotting to keep Republicans in power, by any means necessary.
Vehicles like this Tarrant 4 Senate dirigible we brought you last month:
The difference with this Black SUV paranoia is that it accurately reflects reality. The Republicans are in a battle to save their majorities, and their monopoly on subpeona power, and not incidentally their extremely large vehicles.