New York Times/CBS News Poll: It’s A Hard Rain Gonna Fall
by Philip Baruth
Between Grover Norquist’s style of governance and Karl Rove’s style of campaigning, Republicans have created the political equivalent of the double negative: once in office you strip government of any meaningful function, loot it of any disposable income — and then, come election time, you run on the dire threat posed by the opposition.
In our post-9/11 political grammar, these two negatives have somehow won Republicans elections.
But not no more. Today’s New York Times/CBS news poll shows that Americans are overwhelmingly onto the game.
“In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give a new people a chance.”
Including 65% of Republicans.
Anti-incumbency fever, indeed.
For all of his predictable manipulation of the five-year anniversary of 9/11, the Decider registers an anemic 37% approval rating, putting the lie to manufactured rumors of a Bush Bounce.
And where is all of this demonstrable sentiment headed in the midterms? You know it, baby: “In the poll, 50 percent said they would support a Democrat in the fall Congressional elections, compared with 35 percent who said they would support a Republican.”
And there, in a nutshell, you see the static nature of the Welch/Rainville polls to date.
Now, granted, premature celebrations bring great risks, in any political campaign. And the good Lord knows that Diebold is poised to make its own particular form of campaign contribution as needed. And rumors abound that our Navy has been given contingency plans about an Iran-directed blockade of the Strait of Hormuz.
But screw that noise, as McMurphy told the Big Nurse before she lobotomized him. We’re singing the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme this morning, and we really don’t care who knows it:
Who-o-o lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Absorbant and yellow and porous is he!
And for that 65% slice of Republicans who have finally come to their senses, yes, here’s the dance remix.
From VDB, with love.
September 20th, 2006
Tarrant’s New Attack Ad: Dawn of the Living Rich Millionaire Guys Who Want to be Senators Without First Paying Their Dues
by Philip Baruth
It’s only September 20th, people say to VDB, and Rich Tarrant is already painting Bernie as a coke-sniffing, rapist-coddling, pedophile-phile. Where, these people ask, can Tarrant’s camp possibly go from here?
In a word, down. Tarrant’s new attack ad is out, and it beggars description. It’s dark, aggressive, ravenous.
VDB’s second-favorite moment? When Tarrant locks his teeth into Bernie’s neck and tears at the meat and tendons. And our first-favorite? When Bernie responds with lethal force. [Warning: Graphic Violence]
September 20th, 2006
My Dinner With Carville: Campaign Finance and General Culinary Crudity
by Philip Baruth
Vermont Public Radio held a day-long symposium today on politics and campaign finance, a really well-planned and well-executed event. The commentary below was my three-and-a-half minute on-air contribution.
And yes, VDB has tentatively lifted its ban on diplomatic relations with Carville, after extensive negotiations and concessions from both sides.
* * *
Notes from the New Vermont Commentary #187: My Dinner With Carville — Campaign Finance and General Culinary Crudity
In September of 2001 — just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks — James Carville came to the University of Vermont to deliver the annual Aiken Lecture. At the time, I was writing a novel about Bill Clinton, and Carville was a main character. Actually, Carville was two main characters, because the book also involves time travel.
Anway, the point is that I really, really wanted to meet the guy, and my friend Tony was able to wangle me an invitation to a dinner at the now-defunct New England Culinary Institute on Church Street.
And it was worth the trouble: Carville is one of the most intriguing characters in American political history, mostly, you get the impression, because he works so very hard at it.
Being a character, that is.
Carville arrived late and nodded at those of us already sitting at the table. But he didn’t sit down himself; instead he wandered the restaurant, not making eye contact, but letting everyone in the place get a good look at him. He seemed to have not just a desire but a need to be noticed, stared at, wondered over.
In fact, throughout the dinner, Carville punctuated every other conversational point by striking the table with a flat hand, hard enough to make the silverware jump and jangle.
After a while, it was like a constant counterpoint, the way a tambourine backs up a hot Motown standard. And if he wasn’t slapping the table, Carville was sticking his pointed index finger emphatically into the rolls sitting in the bread basket beside him.
In short, it was impossible not to pay attention, for one reason or another.
And because John McCain had been getting so much press at that point for his proposed McCain/Feingold bill, Carville seemed to want especially to make himself heard on that topic. So at one point, when he had everyone’s attention, Carville announced that he’d solved the campaign finance problem — solved it completely and entirely.
And these were his two related proposal:
1) Anyone in office would be forbidden by Federal law from any sort of fund-raising, period. Added to the existing ban on gifts, this statute would do away entirely with the “pay-for-play” system that currently plagues American representative democracy.
2) Challengers for public office could spend whatever they could raise or donate, no limits of any sort. Incumbents, on the other hand, would be publicly financed, but here’s the kicker — incumbents would receive only 85% of whatever their challengers manage to raise.
In this way, the proposal takes into account the natural advantages that come with incumbency itself, from free mailing privileges to greater media access.
Now clearly there were major stumbling blocks to Carville’s proposal, and we argued about them until long after the restaurant had emptied out.
The Supreme Court might well challenge the idea that incumbents would be forbidden to accept or donate funds, and public financing has been plagued by twin failures of will, a failure to fund the programs, and a failure to enforce them once in place.
But over the years, I’ve come to see more good than evil in Carville’s scheme.
Why does the idea of banning lawmakers from accepting any sort of money or gift strike us as radical or extreme? And why — with incumbency now a statistical guarantee of re-election — does the idea of deliberately tilting the playing field toward the challenger strike us as somehow unfair?
When he got up to leave that night, Carville took the hand of the woman sitting next to him, and said, in a very courtly manner, “Please excuse my crudity tonight.”
But maybe when it comes to reforming a system awash in money and hopelessly conflicted in its interests, a little crudity is exactly what this country needs.
[This piece aired previously on Vermont Public Radio.]
Some things in this world are accidental, and some are deliberate, purposeful. And then there is television advertising, which exists in a realm of its own when it comes to the obsessive control and relentless tweaking of all tweakable factors.
And so, when we first got a look at Tarrant’s long-awaited scorched-earth TV ads, we were a bit puzzled. Because the spokesperson for the spot (one Marty Boyce of Randolph) wears one of the sourest, tightest-lipped expressions — on one of the dourest faces in general — that VDB has ever seen. In VDB’s entire life.
So unattractive and unforgiving is this face that we could only assume it was a casting mishap. Or maybe the Tarrant camp wanted Boyce herself for some reason, and the face was the price that had to be paid.
But then came George Cuusella, of Bellows Falls. VDB almost screamed, literally, when George materialized on the screen. So angry, so vindictive and unattractively pinched is Cuusella’s expression that Marty Boyce seems fey and soft-hearted by comparison.
George Cuusella’s is a face that will haunt the dreams of a whole new generation of Vermonters, for the rest of their natural-born lives.
And the ugly, sour, unforgiving hits just kept on coming: every spokesperson in every Tarrant ad looked like your high school gym coach after a three-day bender; the old woman who lives in the deserted house at the end of the block who chases kids away with a tarnished Civil War saber; or the evil old fart who monitors your apartment from his dank porch in the shade of a diseased elm down the street.
And that’s when it hit VDB: this is the look the Tarrant camp is after. These people look this way on purpose.
Why? Think of it this way. Removing an entrenched incumbent — or a functional incumbent, as in the case of longtime House Representative Bernie Sanders — requires a very particular sort of explosive charge. And anger is the semtex of political organizing.
So Rich Tarrant first attempted to foment and harness voter anger on the property tax issue. His approach was novel — quietly funding local campaigns in March, under the “Put a Roof on Taxes” banner — but unsuccessful.
And so now, a little earlier than they would have liked, the Tarrant folk have been forced to mix the fertilizer-bomb brand of anger: anger over sexual molestation and predation, and the marginally related issues concerning the flow of drugs into Vermont.
The angry, unforgiving faces in Tarrant’s campaign look that way on purpose, because they’re supposed to model the anger Tarrant seeks to exploit. I’m livid, the faces say, because Bernie has allowed the unspeakable.
And of course the tagline — “What’s happened to Bernie?” — goes a silent step further, implying that Bernie hasn’t merely allowed the unspeakable, but committed it himself.
Why would Bernie oppose the prosecution of drug dealers and sexual predators, all the while hindering the creation of the amber alert system? Clearly because several terms in Congress have left Sanders himself hopelessly hooked on the thrills of drug use and molestation, and an amber alert system will only block his frantic escape when it all comes out in the press after election day.
What Tarrant’s ads suggest, then, is that Bernie has become a diseased element, an element that must be cast out to preserve the community. And in this way, Tarrant’s ad-makers have reached back to a very old, very dark chapter in New England history, the days of the Puritan tribunals, when morality dictated law, and vice versa.
The angry images you see on your TV screens come together over time to represent a jury of your peers, a jury that has decided to cast out the heretic.
Unfortunately for Tarrant, his creative types reached a bit too far.
Rather than suggesting an upright group of regular folks who have had more than they can reasonably take, the Tarrant “Fact Check” sequence has stumbled into a full-fledged re-enactment of the Salem Witch Trials, complete with self-interested witnesses (Cuusella is a former GOP Chair), a nebulous and vaguely sexualized hysteria, and finally the interests of the rich and powerful driving the process from the shadows.
In two years, these Tarrant ads will seem shrill and strangely melodramatic. In twenty, they’ll be relics of a period in which the sexual predator and the terrorist did dual service in terrorizing an increasingly isolated and fenced-off American populace.
Here is the face of Judge Samuel Sewall, whose rulings sent many innocent women to their death, only after being hounded and tortured and nearly drowned in the search for evil that didn’t exist. Sewall would later be overcome with remorse, and publicly apologize for his role in the Witch Trials.
His face isn’t so very different from Cuusella’s, after you stare at them for a minute or two. The real difference? George Cuusella will never admit to the way he and a group of cynical ad-execs have attempted to gin up hysteria in the state of Vermont, in the year 2006.
And neither will Rich Tarrant. Never in a million years.
Which leaves VDB only one option: cast Rich Tarrant into Lake Champlain, maybe off Appletree Point, where the surf gets a little choppy.
If the waters reject him, then is he guilty.
However, if the waters accept him, and he drown, then is he innocent, and free from evil entire.
September 17th, 2006
Why Doesn’t VDB Ever Report The GOOD News From Iraq?
by Philip Baruth
We knew it was coming, and yes, here it is. And true to form, the October Surprise turns out to be — a really, really huge surprise:
“BAGHDAD, Sept. 15 — The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad within weeks by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic checkpoints to control movement in and out of the violent city of seven million people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Friday.”
Make that a series of trenches sixty miles long, to cover the massive radius of the Iraqi capitol. What a perfect symbol of war-time progress, and what an in-your-face rebuttal to all the Democratic whining about no construction activity in Baghdad!
Rumsfeld and Lieberman were right all along: things are apparently going much better than the drive-by media would have us believe. Imagine a world with permanent, hardened US fortresses ringed by huge moats, sixty miles in diameter, patrolled by armored troops, carrying out a crusade right in the middle of the Holy Land.
Now that’s original, out-of-the-box thinking, the sort voters would be fools not to reward.
Late Update, Sunday, 9/17, 2:13 pm:
Think VDB is blowing smoke? Try this eye-opener from the Washington Post, only two days later:
“An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat — this time on a national scale — of last week’s Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said.”
Scary when life follows so closely on the heels of political parody. Really freaking scary.
You know, the 30% of Americans who support the Bush Administration right or wrong have always had a hard time understanding why the remaining 70% of us are getting so upset about the direction the country’s taking.
They have a hard time understanding why the word “fascist” has staged a comeback on the Left, when it so clearly belongs in the lexicon of the Right, as the more familiar half of the hot new term, “Islamofascist.”
You want to know why? Well, VDB will tell you.
It’s because hardly a month goes by without reading a story like this, in which a top military official cooly and calmly discusses microwaving protesters.
“WASHINGTON - Nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield, the Air Force secretary said Tuesday.
“‘If we’re not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation,’ said Wynne.”
Impeccable logic, Secretary Wynne. In fact, we owe it to the rest of the world — and our own sense of fair play, really — to microwave American protesters.
Okay, work with us, this is right off the top of VDB’s head and we can fine-tune later — but what about a line of ready-to-microwave Leftists, Protester Pockets®?
Before demonstrations, angry activists consume uncooked or frozen mozzarella, sausage, peppers and marinara. Read them their rights, and when they refuse to leave the premises — cooks in minutes.
We on the Center-Left see this sort of thing, and it gives us a very particular and specific case of the creeps.
It makes us wonder: why are the highest-ranking officials in the US military thinking so seriously about how to handle vast crowds of protesters, only a few weeks out from the midterm elections?
Can you say Ukraine, Lebanon, Mexico?
Suppose exit polls once again showed Democrats up (as in 2004), and then subsequent electronic voting tallies show them down, not by much, just enough to leave power where it now sits. And let’s say that just enough evidence of ballot tampering emerged to throw the outcome into serious doubt.
This is the scenario that electronic voting machines, in particular those without countable receipts — in particular those programmed by companies run by top GOP fundraisers — render possible, if not probable.
In which case, it’s good to have the advanced high-tech ray guns at the ready.
All VDB can say is this: when they come to microwave us, they’re going to find our pockets jam-packed with metal.
You knew it couldn’t hold together long. It had that camera-ready gloss that always prompts people to try the finish with their thumbnail.
And this morning Brian Dubie’s media-ready deployment to Iraq — and especially his campaign’s decision to conceal and spring the news on primary night — began to look a good deal less dashing in the plain light of day.
You’ll remember that yesterday we asked a series of fairly common-sense questions, most related to timing. Dubie knew he was shipping out “for real” at least seven days before the primary, yet the campaign held back that information until Primary night, when it would compete effectively with Dunne’s dramatic victory over Tracy.
Why the delay? Well, Martha Hanson — in the manner of people caught doing what they shouldn’t under any circumstances be caught doing — tried a flurry of explanations.
First, she didn’t inform Vermonters that their second-highest ranking official was shipping out to a combat zone “because she didn’t see any reason to tell anybody.”
You think we made up that quote to make Coke come out of your nose. But read Nancy Remsen’s lede here.
Go ahead, we’ll wait.
And when Hanson realized that her first explanation was likely to make Coke come out of the noses of Vermonters, she instinctively retreated into the Bush-era all-purpose Excuse of Last Resort: “She cited operational security as the primary justification for silence.”
Susie Hudson, Dubie’s campaign manager, quickly followed suit, arguing that “the decision about publicizing [Dubie’s] deployment was a military matter. ‘I left it in the hands of people who know how to handle that best.’”
Security requires that no questions be asked about anything that looks suspiciously like the politicization of security. If you want to know why Dubie’s campaign saved the news of his departure for Primary Night, just think how desperately Al-Queda wants to know.
VDB knows the logic well.
But unfortunately for Hanson and Hudson, Nancy Remsen had apparently eaten some particularly hanky Wheaties yesterday, and wasn’t in the mood to salute and fall silent.
Instead, Remsen called Maj. John Elolf, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command’s 9th Air Force. And at first, Elolf gave the Dubie folk just the cover they were seeking.
“We hold the information about the time, travel and location until after our senior leaders have departed . . . We look at this as operational security.”
But Elolf, no campaign operative he, finally didn’t know when to leave well enough alone. And Remsen ends her tough-nosed little piece with a classic speaks-for-itself cutaway:
“After the team departed, however, Elolf said the deployment could have been announced, although without details. As for waiting four days to release the information, Elolf said, ‘We didn’t ask them to do that.’”
Could it be any clearer, at this point? Dubie may have been “activated” entirely without his own encouragement; the timing of the departure may in fact have been entirely out of his hands.
Those things we will almost certainly never know.
But we now know very well — if only we care to acknowledge the fact — that the Lieutenant Governor’s campaign aides were unable to resist the familiar Rovian bargain: selling their credibility on issues of war and security in exchange for short-term political gain.
And the revelations of Remsen’s article extend a good deal higher than mere campaign aides, it seems to VDB.
As of Tuesday, we were being told that Dubie had briefed Douglas only “a few days” prior to his departure. But in Remsen’s piece, Jason Gibbs whittles that supposed timeline even further: “Dubie informed Gov. Jim Douglas of his impending deployment the day before he departed, said Jason Gibbs, the governor’s spokesman.”
If you believe that the Lieutenant Governor of the state of Vermont waited until the day before his departure to notify his running-mate, the Governor of the State of Vermont, then VDB has some penis-enlargement and Nigerian investment spam we’d like to forward you.
Neither of these men are politically-challenged. Far from it. They are both of them very savvy vote-getters, Jim and Brian. This belatedly high-profile departure was coordinated well before Dubie strapped on his flight gear.
So why is Douglas holding publicly to the “one-day notice” defense?
Because Brian stepped in Dubie, and Uncle Jim wants to keep his own wingtips clean.
This one’s not over, folks. Not by a long shot. But sincere kudos to Nancy Remsen for keeping the ball in play.
As Ali G would say, Respek.
September 14th, 2006
VDB Chews Fat With Mark Johnson
by Philip Baruth
For the early risers with long commutes or time otherwise on their hands: VDB will be talking with Mark Johnson this morning, at nine o’clock straight up (WDEV, 96.1 FM).
Discussion will no doubt veer wildly and uncontrollably — from primary day to political blogging to the steamy, carefully manufactured rumors about Condoleeza Rice and Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, involving a first date at a Tim Horton’s, a popular Canadian donut chain, “where Ms Condoleeza Rice, 51, had a half regular, half decaf coffee and Mr Peter MacKay had a medium tea.”
Cheetah Scents a Dubie, Straggling Along Well Behind the Herd
by Philip Baruth
A few things to note about Dunne’s convincing win in the Democratic primary last night, and Brian Dubie’s surprise announcement that he had, in fact, left the country.
First, Dunne’s margin was surprisingly wide, indicative of very broad-based, statewide support. Even in Chittenden County, Dunne held Tracy to a margin he could more than make up elsewhere. That is a tribute to long-term planning, and a deliberately elongated campaign season.
All things being equal, more time on the ground is more votes. Dunne had wrapped up crucial endorsements and donors well before he had any competition in the race. And as we’ve noted before, incumbents count on short campaign calendars.
Second, Dunne reached out immediately and graciously to John Tracy, who himself campaigned hard in the stretch. “I would like to thank my friend, John Tracy,” Dunne said, “for running a positive campaign that anyone would be proud of.”
VDB seconds that emotion.
Had Tracy won last night we would have been happy to pull behind him. John is a very likeable, talented politician, and he lacked only the requisite time and resources this cycle. What his plans are at this point no one knows, but it’s fair to say that the Burlington Mayor’s office remains his for the taking, when and if he holds out his hand.
Third, Dunne’s win was reported in the same edition as current Lieutenant Governor Dubie’s departure to Iraq.
Which strikes VDB as sheer unmitigated election-year photo-opportunism.
You heard us: this deployment of “several weeks” to the war zone has all the earmarks of made-to-order media.
To take just one prime example — concerning the timing of the announcement — from the Free Pressbombshell:
“‘We knew it was going to occur for real about the middle of last week,’ said Martha Hanson, Dubie’s chief of staff.”
The Dubie camp knew “for real” about a week ago, then, but they sat on the news for seven full days, until the headline could compete effectively with the primary results.
And compete effectively it did: the Dubie story ran among the day’s “top stories,” while the Dunne/Tracy story fronted the “Vermont” section.
And if the Dubie camp knew “for real” a week ago, chances are good they knew “for pretty darn sure” three weeks ago.
Which begs a further question on timing.
Jim Douglas’ spokesman, Jason Gibbs, told the Free Press that “Douglas was briefed about Dubie’s deployment a few days before the lieutenant governor left the country.”
In other words, we’re to believe that Dubie kept this potential development from Douglas for a few weeks, then — when it was “for real” — kept it from him for another several days, and finally informed the Governor “a few days” before it all went down.
Isn’t it easier and more logical to believe that Dubie sat down and discussed his departure and possible campaign ramifications with Douglas from the get-go?
Why, then, such strenuous efforts to make every detail and facet of this odd deployment seem unplanned, spontaneous, uncoordinated, utterly and entirely out of the control of the state’s two highest-ranking officials?
Of course, Dubie’s office knows this looks more than a little convenient, and they put out a statement designed to make this deployment seem part of a clear pattern. Dubie was deployed post-9/11, they point out, and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
At the risk of stating the obvious, those situations involved highly time-sensitive disasters. Iraq, for its part, is a long, hard, losing slog. It is a quagmire. By definition, nothing is going to help very much or very quickly.
Dubie could have gone to conduct “field assessment” of the situation next month, or next year, and the situation would be fundamentally the same, or slightly worse.
That’s what staying the course has come to mean.
The fact that Dubie is going right now — after announcing the move on primary night — and returning with campaign-ready footage a month before election day, smells like nothing so much as what VDB has come to think of over the last six years as Bush-shit: the deliberate and methodical blurring of the lines between life, death, politics, cynicism and patriotism.
A final defensive nugget from the Free Press story: “Hanson said Dubie did not request the mission to Iraq. ‘He was activated to join this team,’ she said.”
So that’s how it works: the Air Force Reserve just mechanically “activates” the Lieutenant Governor of Vermont, doesn’t seek or stop for his input, tells him to get his damn flight gear packed and speak only when he’s spoken to, or face the damn consequences, soldier.
How silly to think that Dubie — if he didn’t himself originate the idea or even the timeline — might certainly have fine-tuned it with the help of sympathetic brass. (His clout with the Administration was sufficient, remember, to make Dubie a serious contender for an ambassador-level slot in the International Civil Aviation Organization.)
Republican talking points make much of a “pre-9/11 mindset,” and they’re right, such a mindset exists. But it doesn’t involve believing that we can go back to a world without terrorism, or a time of lost innocence.
Instead, it’s believing we can return to a time when war and flags and national security itself weren’t routinely leveraged to win elections.
And if you want to know precisely who’s stuck in that dangerously naive mind-set, it’s anyone in the state of Vermont who uncritically swallows this latest gamey line out of the Lieutenant Governor’s office/campaign.
Fortunately, Dubie now faces a very tough, very smart, very hungry opponent, someone unlikely to be fazed by this sort of maneuvering.
He faces the Cheetah. And cheetahs run 65 miles an hour for one excellent reason: they feed regularly on red meat.
Keep your eye on Dunne, folks. If you can.
September 13th, 2006
Primary Turnout: “Unexpectedly Light”? “Poised For Increase”? Or (Gasp) Both?
by Philip Baruth
Die-hard VDBista MG writes in with strange tidings:
I was at the polls this morning (St. Marks for Ward 4, Burlington) from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and just back again for the lunch swing from 12 noon to 1 p.m. It will be so interesting to see the votes - attendance is already soooo much lighter than anyone anticipated!!!!
St. Marks had only 500 total voters by 1 p.m. Hunt had 165 by 11 a.m.
Just FYI in case you were interested.
Interested? You have to ask? We leap on these sorts of emails the way a Malamute takes out a chipmunk.
Mmm, let’s pull out the abacus. Low turnout statewide is one thing, and low turnout in Chittenden County quite another: all the prevailing models of the Lite Governor’s race, for instance, presume a very heavy turnout in this neck of the woods.
Still, turnout in Chittenden 3-1 last time out was under 500 total, so today should exceed that, though not be a whole lot. Judging on the little data available, VDB would have to say slightly higher turnout in Chittenden County, but nothing like a wave. More like a decent ripple.
Most likely beneficiary? The devious Odum. More as news warrants.
Update, 4:40 pm:
Curiouser and curiouser.
SH writes in that turnout in Hartford, which she described as a “steady trickle,” had reached about 300 by 1 pm — roughly the full turnout for the two Hartford districts last time out. So the numbers there seem poised for an increase over last primary day, maybe an increase of 20 or 30%.
So we may be looking at a healthy growth rate in the primary numbers, but again no tidal surge.
Likely beneficiary, if true? The devious Odum. Again.