Times change. Slowly and grudgingly sometimes, but they do, in point of fact, change.
Take the Times, for instance — this morning VDB could only suspect for a moment that they’d mistakenly printed the paper on blotter acid, with some microscopic traces making their way inevitably to the somatosensory cortex.
At issue was a hurried news conference the President called yesterday morning, to lay out a clear course for his party in the midterm elections. It was the Decider at his most dividerish, elevating partisan right-wing talking points to the presidential level.
But something had gone horribly wrong. For example:
“’What matters is that in this campaign that we clarify the different points of view,’ Mr. Bush said from the press secretary’s lectern in the White House conference center up the street from the Oval Office. ‘And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they’re wrong.’
“In calling the opposition the ‘Democrat Party’ Mr. Bush was repeating a truncated, incorrect version of the party’s name that some Democrats have called a slight, an assertion the White House dismissed as ridiculous.”
Very interesting indeed.
Bush’s attempt to control and distort the working lexicon of political reporters is nothing new; half of the Social Security privatization battle concerned the White House’s attempts to replace the word “up” with the word “down.”
No, what’s novel here is reporter Jim Rutenberg’s immediate contextualization: rather than merely pointing out that Republicans have collectively adopted a less favorable designation for the opposition, Rutenberg doesn’t hesitate to label that new designation “incorrect.”
Which is correct, of course. It’s just that we’re used to a bit more willingness to please on the part of White House reporters, and a bit less backbone. (For the hows and whys of the Republican attempt to substitute “Democrat” for “Democratic,” see this New Yorkerlink. Hat-tip to faithful VDB-reader Tom.)
But that wasn’t the strangest, most surreal bit. Here is Bush on the need for a robust force in Lebanon, and his hope that the French will take the lead:
“Beyond that, France, once Lebanon’s colonial master, has a historical relationship that led many to believe it was inconceivable that France would not lead the peacekeeping contingent with a strong contribution.
“’I would hope they would put more troops in,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘They understand the region as well as anybody.’”
They understand the region as well as anybody.
The French, that is. They “understand” (grasp, comprehend) “the region” (the Middle East) as well as “anybody” (including, presumably, the US and the UK). And this, of course, was the President of the United States of America talking.
Since when is the official Middle East policy of the United States government built around a recognition of France’s historical and practical experience in the region?
Since the duck went lame, my friends. And he’ll only get lamer after the midterms, and lamer every single day for the two years following.
Bush’s “Forward Strategy for Freedom” is really about getting out from under the wreckage of a failed foreign policy before his successor — whether from the Republican or Democratic or Connecticut for Lieberman parties — officially labels it a disaster.
So now he needs friends. But no one’s in a forgiving mood: reporters have sharpened their canine teeth to a fine point, and even Tony Blair (through a surrogate) is calling Bush’s record in the region “crap.”
Fortunately, he’ll always have fart jokes and the mountain bike. Because the best things never change.
August 21st, 2006
Enough With the Friendly Fire, John
by Philip Baruth
When I put together the photo narrative of the July 9 VDB/GMD Political Barbeque, there was one photo that I held back.
No one else would have batted an eye over it, but to me it seemed better left out of that upbeat collage — because it marked the one uncomfortable conversation I had that afternoon on North Beach.
It records my attempt to explain to John Tracy why I’ve thrown my support behind Matt Dunne for Lieutenant Governor.
Full disclosure: I’ve always liked John Tracy, and I’ve written some nice things about him in the past. When he threw his hat in the ring for Mayor of Burlington last time out — making it clear that his decision had nothing to do with current-mayor Peter Clavelle’s plans — I thought it was exactly the right statement at exactly the right moment. I got ready to pull hard behind his campaign.
And when John suddenly pulled his hat out of the ring, I was more than a little disappointed.
You can trace the Burlington Democrats’ loss of the Mayor’s office to that reversal, and trace it with a straight line: Tracy would have strolled into City Hall, had he stuck with his early, spot-on candidacy.
Fast forward to the following October, when I get a call from Matt Dunne. Dunne is someone I’ve followed for quite a while, and more than anything I’ve always been impressed with his energy and drive and determination. During this call, Matt says he’s running for Lieutenant Governor — a logical move after multiple stints in the Vermont House and Senate — and in a few weeks he’ll have an organizational infrastructure up statewide.
Now, I’ve always believed that candidates should know their own mind, and act quickly on that knowledge. In this case, with a semi-popular incumbent in place, any successful bid for Lite Governor would have to start early and build explosively through the spring and summer. Dunne looked more than capable of that energy.
And no other Democrat was in the race.
So I did what activists do: I committed.
And then, of course — three or four months later — Tracy let it slip in a radio interview that he’d be running as well, but not until the close of the Legislative session. And suddenly I found myself in the sort of awkward social/political/personal bind that primaries famously create: in spite of a great deal of respect for Tracy’s abilities, I thought his early approach to this particular campaign was too tentative and low-key.
And more than anything else, I want to help Brian Dubie return to full-time employment in the air travel industry.
All of this I explained to Tracy. I told him that whoever won the primary in September could count on my whole-hearted support in the run-up to the general. And I tried to end the conversation on that positive note.
But Tracy wasn’t having it. Without going into specifics, suffice it to say that he seemed offended that I would commit to a candidate before the primary had run its course.
Part of this had to do, I think, with a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of political blogging. By and large political blogs are run by activists looking to promote their own candidates as a way of furthering their own specific politics — and they do so from the very beginning to the bitter end of an election cycle. Primaries are driven by party activists, and bloggers and regular blog-readers are activists on steroids.
And so asking a blogger to sit on the sidelines during a primary would be every bit as odd as asking primary voters themselves to hold off on organizing, if not more so.
But clearly it’s deeper than that. In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Tracy made a similar issue of the support Dunne won from the 21st Century Democrats: “They shouldn’t be sticking their nose in, endorsing people before the primary.”
Now, it’s worth noting that Madeleine Kunin, Peter Clavelle, Phil Hoff and a long list of others endorsed Dunne months and months ago. It would be hard to say that Peter Clavelle, for instance, doesn’t understand the nature of a primary; probably no one in Vermont knows better, in fact. Clavelle knows that a primary is a way of determining who has more game to bring to the general election, and part of that game is locking up endorsements, money, and field workers.
The idea of a primary is to drive involvement, not limit it, and if a candidate can get additional money or volunteers out of state, that speaks meaningfully to their viability in the general. Both Tracy and Dunne have found support outside the state, for the record, and properly so.
There’s a limit, of course: no one wants a primary bought and sold by out-of-state interests. But obviously that’s not the case here. What Tracy is pointing to amounts to the training of a handful of field workers, the same sort of field workers who helped Vermont Democrats take back the House after the Civil Unions/Act 60 backlash. The same sort Tracy himself once went to Washington to recruit.
In other words, what Tracy is complaining about is the nature of primaries themselves: people and organizations picking a candidate, and supporting that candidate as the best expression of their politics available — with the understanding that following the primary, they may re-settle their support if their first candidate comes up short.
That’s democracy, and it works pretty well.
Now as clearly, much of Tracy’s beef here is rhetorical, a way of neutralizing an opponent’s strength. And this too is standard fare: those who raise substantially less tend to criticize the fundraising process and propose spending limits (see Martha Rainville), and those without key endorsements deride the value of endorsements in general.
Tracy has even taken this process one odd step further, arguing to Sam Hemingway not only that “Dunne has put too much emphasis on raising money” but too much time on “campaigning” itself.
But just because attacking the 21st Century Democrats is a rhetorical option doesn’t make it logical, or right. They — and those who put their money down on Dunne when he showed that he was ready to take on Dubie — haven’t done anything but care intensely about taking back the Lieutenant Governor’s office in the state of Vermont.
In general, Tracy’s approach over the last several weeks — painting Dunne as a creature of Washington out of touch with the common man — has been far too personal and negative in nature.
And it’s led Tracy to sound less and less like the Tracy I know and respect from living and working in Burlington with him. “I was born and raised here,” he told Sam Hemingway. “I’ve dug graves. I’ve raised houses. I get it. Vermonters want people who get it.”
Look, I don’t want to get into grave-digging here. But it’s never been the sort of thing I thought an awful lot about on my way to vote someone into higher office.
But that’s what negative campaigning does, in the long run: it distorts the attacker as well as the attacked.
Tracy’s better than this last series of interviews make him out to be. And if he wins in September, I will post my congratulations and a public offer of support the following morning.
But my money is on Dunne, and has been since long before Tracy got involved.
Dunne was up and running very quickly; he has an impressive statewide organization, made up of committed progressive staff and volunteers; his fundraising has been commensurate with the task at hand; and now, here at the end of the primary process, Dunne has his fire trained on Brian Dubie, rather than a fellow Democrat.
And all of those things are positives, not negatives, regardless of any strategic attempts to muddy the issue. Ask Madeleine Kunin. Ask Peter Clavelle. And then tell them that they’re sticking their noses in too soon, if you’re really looking to get an earful.
August 20th, 2006
Lamont Has Left the Building
by Philip Baruth
With the notable exceptions of Obama and Edwards, I seem doomed to miss every major-league hitter that blows into town.
And so of course, when Ned Lamont — whose story I’ve been working with a fine-toothed comb — came through on Friday, I was idling in Chicago, because the landing lights were “non-functional” at Burlington’s own (technically) international airport.
But not to worry: Freyne has the story. Welcome to the sphere, Peter.
August 17th, 2006
Bill Ritter Goes Biblical, Way Biblical
by Philip Baruth
Currently blogging from the Denver/Boulder area, which God made on the 5th day — when He really had His moves down, but before He had time to get burnt out on the whole Creation gig — and which has some of the most exciting and puzzling 2006 races in the nation.
Case in point: Democrat Bill Ritter is out in front in the Governor’s race, and breaking new ground in terms of Red-State appeal. Howard Dean and others have been talking for years now about how to piece off religiously-minded working class voters, those who would ordinarily be receptive to the Democrats’ economic policies.
Well, Ritter has gone to a place Dean never imagined: narrated by a clergyman, the ex-DA’s latest radio spot touts his work healing lepers.
Yes. Lepers. Now that’s digitally-sharp messaging: Vote for Bill Ritter — because he’s Jesus.
Take-away lesson for Scudder? Loaves and fishes at all future rallies.
All’s well that end’s well: the Dead Governor’s discovered some site back-up, and have found a new Blogger location very much in keeping with the old. Email on this ominous case has been surprisingly strong: 1/3 conspiracy theories, 1/3 tech-based explanations of the hows and whys of a thief accessing Politics VT, and 1/3 sheer sympathy.
So only one loose end remains: the low-life thief. If it was some random boost-artist or identity-thief looking to make a quick 100$, then hell is clearly in the offing; if it was an ex-CIA operative working deep cover for the Agency, or the NSA, then his life is already hell, whether he knows it or not.
Of all the varieties of bad karma, bad cyber-karma is the baddest. Enough said.
Welcome back, Edna, Ira, Red, Jonas, and the rest of you deceased gubernatorial types.
What would Watergate be like if it happened now, instead of during the Nixon years, and if instead of H.R. Bob Haldeman and McGovern and Woodward and Agnew, it centered around a secretive group of long-deceased Vermont politicos?
In short, it would be freaking weird. But it’s true: someone cyber-mugged the Dead Governors.
The following email came in last night from Edna, over at Politics VT:
“We have a very, very serious problem right now here at the Capitol Bureau. While Isaac was on vacation yesterday in Michigan, his laptop computer was stolen. The problem is very very serious because not only does the computer have all his banking, real estate and computer information but it is also where all (or most) of the information regarding our blog was stored.
“Whoever stole the laptop gained access to the blog because when Isaac went to check on it to see if it had been touched, it had been reverted back to May postings. Previous posts had been removed, our contact information was almost completly gone, we lost our password and username access but luckily were able to use our secret question to get on.
“Whoever stole this did incredible damage to over 2 years of hard work.”
Two things immediately worth noting: 1) The Governors have deleted their blog from the Blogger rolls, and as of this morning it’s unavailable, gone, kaput; and 2) the thing they seem most worried about is how to contact their readers and let them know that Politics VT will rise from the . . . well, the dick in Michigan who stole their computer and their blog architecture. That’s dedication to an audience, my friends.
What VDB finds almost incomprehensible is the idea that a common criminal would steal the laptop, take it home, boot it up, figure out the hows and whys of Politics VT, and then sign on in order to disrupt it. It just seems implausible, given the possibility that logging on to disrupt the blog would provide an electronic trail of sorts, potentially leading back to the thief.
So work with VDB here: maybe it wasn’t a common criminal. Maybe it was what we’ve all feared, all bloggers everywhere, that people in high, covert places are reading our posts and plotting their revenge. And then, maybe, they see you’re going to Michigan for some R&R and they pick up the phone and an ex-CIA guy there rents a late-model Chevy, and that’s all she wrote.
When they come for VDB’s Mac, they’ll have to pry it out of our cold, dead hands. That’s all we can say.
But a memo to the Dead Governors: let us know what we can do to make it right.
When you’ve figured out the new home for the blog, we’ll put the word out. And in the meantime, if you can’t resist commenting on an issue here or there, pass it on in email form, and we’ll work it into the day’s posts.
Think of VDB as an old ratty couch at a friend’s apartment, in other words, one with broken springs and the lingering smell of Chinese food, but a couch that’s always there for you just the same.
August 16th, 2006
Lieberman Camp Test-Markets New Anti-Bernie Message for GOP
by Philip Baruth
Clearly Dan Gerstein — a faithful Lieberman retainer suddenly made Communications Director in the purge following Big Joe’s loss to Ned Lamont — believes that the Senator’s operation spent too much time on the defensive in the run-up to the August ballot.
And it’s a fine point: having your candidate yelling “I am not George W. Bush!” at rallies would seem to verge on the defensive, even the tetchy. But how to get on the offensive?
The attempts to echo Dick Cheney have proven a double-edged sword. Yes, they allow Lieberman to argue that a vote for Ned Lamont is like offering cappucino and biscotti to Al-Qaeda, but only at the cost of openly parroting the lines of a man less than half as popular as George W. Bush.
A man now best known for starring in the popular but short-lived reality series, “Who Wants A Massive Load of Buckshot in Their Face and Heart?”
Gerstein’s answer? Find someone more popular to echo. Someone like Dick Nixon. That’s right, add the Communist specter to the terrorist threat as a sort of boffo Vegas-style alarmist two-fer.
But of course, if you have in mind some serious red-baiting, you need to find yourself a Red. And with Fidel Castro laid up, that’s easier said than done.
Where in these United states of America can Gerstein lay his hands on a nice convenient Commie?
“Dan Gerstein, a longtime Lieberman aide whom the senator named as his new communications director after losing the Democratic primary to Lamont last week, took aim at Lamont’s appearance Sunday on Fox News, calling it ‘a tad hypocritical’ after having attacked Lieberman for appearing on the same network.
“But then Gerstein posed ‘a question’ for Lamont.
“How could he expect to convince ‘moderate Democrats, Republicans, and most importantly, unaffiliated voters’ that he ‘would be anything other than a rigid partisan rubber stamp in the Senate,’ the Lieberman spokesman asked, ‘when the only proof of his independence he can show is that he is slightly to the right of socialist Bernie Sanders on fiscal policy?’”
Ah, there it is: Ned Lamont is slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders. Brilliant.
Forget that only three weeks ago, Lieberman was desperately trying to portray Lamont as a lock-step Republican. Forget that Lamont, with the exception of his stance on the Iraq War, remains a fairly centrist Democrat. For the moment, it serves Lieberman’s interest to portray Lamont as a fellow-traveler, and Bernie Sanders as the crazy-haired icon of creeping Democratic Socialism.
Make no mistake: we will see more of this, a great deal more.
Following his election in November, Bernie will become a favorite fund-raising bogey-man of the Conservative Right. It’s more or less coincidence that Lieberman feels the need to roll out the campaign for them, but it has all the earmarks of a campaign much larger in scope and duration than a single Senate run.
How does VDB know? Because Gerstein’s remarks came on the same day as an editorial called “Ned’s True Colors,” in a paper called the Waterbury Republican-American. Which is as fair and balanced a name for a paper as you’re ever going to find today.
The Republican-American described “the candidate’s great-grandfather, Thomas W. Lamont, as not only chairman of J.P. Morgan but ‘the sugar daddy for the American Communist Party,’ and his uncle, Corliss Lamont, as ‘an unapologetic Stalinist and atheist.’ Lamont, the paper went on, has “surrounded himself with people who may be characterized fairly as dedicated socialists and borderline communists.”
People like Bernie, currently 25 points ahead in his race to replace Jim Jeffords in the Senate.
Joe Lieberman has long served as a Democratic fig-leaf for the Bush administration, but he has very quickly and comfortably moved into a new role: both testing and sustaining Republican “Blue State” talking points. Think about it: if Lieberman really intends to caucus with Democrats, really sees himself as a heart-and-soul member of the party, why this new move to attack and take out not just one but two Democratic nominees, Lamont and Sanders?
If you’ve been confused as to what Joe means precisely by an independent petitioning Democrat, well, now you know.
It means a Republican, in a word.
August 14th, 2006
When VDB Was a Kid, VDB Had to Go to Church Camp, and Like It
by Philip Baruth
Apparently, there’s a camp deep in the leafy heart of Vermont where teenagers can come together, form a band, work hard on their chops, and then record original songs with titles like “Anne Coulter’s Third Nipple.”
We kid you not. YouTube has video of a long jam by who call themselves “Bill O’Reilley’s Big Festering Irish Bald Head (BOBFIBH),” or alternately, “Rich Tarrant Likes the Back Door.” Which would be, let’s see, RTLTBD.
We report, you decide. But the jam’s really not half bad.
Given current polling, it could well happen that Vermont’s own US House race all but single-handedly determines which political party holds a Congressional majority.
In other words, Vermont may be the next Ohio, which was in its own turn the next Florida: a nexus for two utterly different American futures.
Of course, Martha Rainville’s campaign would have Vermonters believe that she will be a Republican with an independent streak.
Rainville Republicanism, call it.
But that’s simply to say that everything surrounding the streak will be mainstream Republican, if you see VDB’s point.
And mainstream Republicanism circa 2006 — in the fourth year of the Iraq War and the sixth year of escalating deficits — is riddled with basic and disastrous contradictions.
Look no further than the thumbnail issue-papers on Rainville’s campaign website. Here’s Martha on “Government Spending,” to take one fat example:
Q: Are you worried about out-of-control government spending?
A: Absolutely. Congress, including both political parties, has shown no leadership when it comes to spending priorities and figuring out what America can and cannot afford. We are currently running up a debt that will be an enormous burden for our children’s generation.
I know how to make principled spending decisions that accurately reflect our priorities. In Congress, I will use my budgetary experience to rein in government spending.
Forget the attempt to rope Democrats in on the explosion of the deficit and the disappearance of the five trillion surplus Clinton left as his legacy. The main point here is that federal spending is out of control, and Martha will get right on it.
Which leads us to Rainville on “Tax Cuts”:
As a fiscal conservative, I believe that taxpayers spend their hard earned money better than the government. Tax cuts stimulate the economy, promote strong economic growth and create new jobs. In Congress, I will treat every dollar as carefully as if it were my own.
The first and last sentences here are sheer boiler-plate, but the line wedged between them is pure, Kool-aid-drinking trickle-down economics. No caveats; no qualifications. Tax cuts are a social good, period. They create revenue and jobs. Hence, the Bush tax cuts already in place must stay in place, and it’s hard to see how Rainville could oppose making them permanent without sinning against her own basic economic creed.
In other words, we must balance the budget — as soon as we’ve cut additional billions, perhaps trillions, in revenue to the Federal government.
Which brings us, in a nightmarishly illogical circle, to the “War in Iraq”:
Over the last three years, the Iraqi people have taken tremendous steps towards a democratic, stable and free Iraq. As the Iraqis continue to increase their capacity to secure their own country and defeat the terrorists, American troops will continue to withdraw.
Again, an unimaginative restatement of Bush’s “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down” formulation. Of course, it’s been clear for months that no one’s standing up and hence no one’s standing down, that civil war is well under way in Iraq, but that’s not really the point.
The point is that the United States of America cannot balance the budget — cannot even meaningfully reduce spending and borrowing — while we’re spending between 200$ and $250 million dollars a day to install a fundamentalist Shiite regime in Iraq.
Staying the course means mortgaging the farm. Period.
Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have dealt with this problem audaciously, by simply moving the costs of the War on Terror off the books. And by borrowing the associated talking points, Rainville tacitly supports this move.
It’s not complicated. Martha Rainville is a Republican.
If elected, she will vote to return the current corrupt House leadership to power. She will turn a blind eye to the inherent contradictions both in mainstream conservative ideology, and in the Bush administration’s smoke-and-mirrors war budgeting.
Sure, Rainville might well select one high-profile issue on which to dog her party, as a way of showing a telegenic brand of independence. Arlen Specter has raised this sort of misdirection to a high art.
But in its fundamentals, Rainville’s political world-view dovetails nicely with that shared by the Southern conservatives who brought you unlimited earmarks at home and unlimited military spending abroad.
Fiscal discipline is a joke in bad taste as long as the Republican leadership continues to wage war and cut taxes simultaneously.
And Rainville has made it amply clear from the very beginning that she intends to laugh right along with them.
“It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again, that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”
“If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them, and they will strike again.”