The Hamburger Summit Cometh: More Frequently Ass-Backward Questions
by Philip Baruth
God help us, but the second annual Political BBQ and Hamburger Summit goes live in two days. That crucial date and time again: Sunday, July 15, 1-5. The location: North Beach, in Burlington.
Click here for obligatory
And to clear up any nagging queries, we present the final sequence of Frequently Ass-Backward Questions:
Q: I’m tempted to attend the BBQ, but I heard some unsavory stories about last year’s event that have given me pause. I guess in particular I was disturbed to hear that there had been nudity, as well as some incident involving inappropriate physical contact between two of the participants. Can you confirm or deny this rumor? I may bring my kids, and I don’t want them scarred, if you see what I mean.
A: Understood. Like many rumors, this one has its origin in a misinterpretation, a humorous misreading of an actual event. A misreading of an actual photograph, in fact:
As you can see, an innocent moment, involving two bloggers understandably pleased to encounter one another in three dimensions. And Burlington, for good or for ill, is no Brattleboro: nudity is still a crime here.
Q: If it rains, will there be a rain date?
A: Even posing this question can only be considered an abject failure of moral courage. But let VDB say this about that. The National Hurricane Institute describes a Category 5 hurricane as follows: “Winds greater than 155 mph or storm surge greater than 18 feet above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failure with small utility buildings blown over or away.” And we’re here to tell you this in no uncertain terms: even in the event of a Cat 5 hurricane, we will occupy the beach. And we will not leave until the last water-logged bun has been consumed. (Current Eye on the Sky forecast calls for any rain to move eastward and away from the beach by early afternoon, followed by gentle sunshine.)
Q: What should I bring?
A: Nothing or anything. We will provide meat, drinks, and chips, but we’re certainly open to all contributions: salads, desserts, lobster tail, truffles.
Q: In Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV, the King’s army is in despair because they are badly outnumbered by the French. But Henry insists before his soldiers that they are lucky to be so few, in that the glory will be divided up among fewer warriors. I quote:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhood cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
My question is this: will political junkies who miss Sunday’s BBQ eventually hold their “manhoods” cheap? Will attending really “gentle my condition”? And what’s a “manhood,” exactly?
A: Respectively, the answers are yes, yes, and ask Odum.
July 13th, 2007
Vermont Dems Launch On-Line Presidential Straw Poll, Which Apparently Includes Names Other Than Barack Obama
by Philip Baruth
Part of the fun of blogging is that people call you names. Sometimes these names are meant in good fun, and sometimes they are meant in — well, bad fun.
But all of the names are badges of honor.
For instance, although there is a very strong field of Democratic candidates this Presidential cycle, we got behind Barack Obama early. Why take sides? Because that’s why primaries were invented: to test early commitment among the party faithful.
Not everyone sees things precisely the same way, of course, and so over the course of the last few months VDB has occasionally been gently mocked for that early attachment to Obama.
They’ve called us Obamaphiles, and Obamaniacs. They’ve said that we’re “enraptured” with the guy, unreasoning in our support.
And we’ve taken it all with a smile, because it has seemed to us that while other Democrats in the state have been flirting here and there, Obama has wired up Vermont in an unprecedented way.
But there was no way to know for sure. Until today.
The web folk at the Vermont Democratic Party have put together a very slick on-line poll, designed to guage the in-state strength of the major Presidential candidates. You can vote here.
Kudos to the VDP for nudging Vermont’s currently sleepy primary season along.
Now is the time for all of you folks who have been making eyes at Edwards and Hillary to (virtually) commit. Or not, as the case may be.
Either way, VDB loves the smell of democracy in the morning.
People think that George W. Bush cares nothing about the Constitution. People are wrong: Bush cares deeply about it.
Why? Because he earnestly believes that it grants him executive authority sweeping enough to justify torture, assassination, and pre-emptive invasion of “opportunity regimes” around the world.
That’s the danger, in a nutshell: Bush is a fundamentalist with regard to the Constitution, not simply the Bible.
That is, his interpretation is the interpretation.
Are you kidding me? Bush loves the Constitution. It deifies George W. Bush, and in his mind that deification is not simply convenient, but quintessentially American.
That’s the danger in any originary document, the danger with bibles, constitutions, sacred writs. Humans begin to use them more or less unthinkingly, reflexively, to justify their own ends.
And that can happen here as well, don’t kid yourself. And on the Left as well as the Right.
True, Vermont has been the winter refuge of Constitutional liberties during the Bush administration, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the dangers of fundamentalism, as a default mode of thought, and as a bare-knuckle political tactic.
Case in point: yesterday’s press gambit by Newfane activist Dan DeWalt.
DeWalt began calling reporters yesterday, promising that his Vermont impeachment organization would field a candidate against Welch in 2008. Like Cindy Sheehan, DeWalt is up front about using the threat of an independent challenge to try to force movement on the impeachment issue.
“There’s plenty of issues that we and Peter Welch can agree on,” DeWalt argues, “but I don’t think we can allow someone to represent us who ignores the fundamental principles that make this country a constitutional republic.”
Got that? Welch is not just a shade less activist than DeWalt might prefer: Welch doesn’t understand or respect Constitutional Democracy.
In fact, Welch “ignores” the basic principles of American government, which overtly suggests dereliction of duty, but even begins to hint subtly at treason.
And hence, Welch must be attacked.
It all begins to sound a bit like the from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: the righteous begin to stone anyone in sight, including themselves, with equal fervor.
DeWalt’s argument amounts to this: because Welch hasn’t moved to impeach at the pace DeWalt might prefer, he isn’t moving at all; because Welch hasn’t managed to restore habeus corpus or outlaw torture in his first six months, he cares nothing at all for the issues; and because Welch has failed the Constitution so spectacularly in those initial six months, the Constitution itself is crying out for DeWalt’s intervention.
Look, let’s bring the discussion down to some durable facts on the ground.
First, by the time the 2008 election yields a new Congress, impeachment will no longer be a subject for debate: it will be physically impossible. Bush will have about two weeks left in his Presidency at that point.
Anyone wishing to impeach Bush or Cheney in January of 2009 will need a time machine to do so.
That being the case, there’s something inherently disingenuous about a challenge based on impeachment. DeWalt knows full well that impeachment will not be possible, but he (like Sheehan) is banking on a grass-roots desire to punish the incumbent for not having produced impeachment while he supposedly had the chance.
And it is that punishment ethic that seems so out of line with reality.
Suddenly Welch is to be sacrificed to pay for Bush’s sins.
Taken together, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch comprise perhaps the most left-leaning delegation in the nation. Not incidentally, over the last six months, they together have done more to reverse the course of the Bush Presidency than any other three individuals in Vermont, and quite possibly in America as a whole.
And yet all three have had their offices picketed, and briefly occupied.
Which was, to put it bluntly, plain silliness: the protestors might easily have made the five-hour drive to Joe Lieberman’s office, and there they would have encountered someone worthy of their rhetoric.
There they would have found a true Republican in Democrat’s clothing. There they would have found the hard-core support for the War they seek to end.
But Peter Welch? Please.
Our entire delegation is working to restore habeus corpus; our entire delegation is investigating the Bush Administration; our entire delegation is actively leveraging the increasingly stark divide on Iraq within the GOP.
Those are facts of which we can be justifiably proud.
But let’s stipulate that DeWalt doesn’t share that view; let’s stipulate that there are hundreds or even thousands more ready to follow DeWalt.
Well and good: go ahead and run a third-party challenger to Peter Welch, and take your case to the people. I don’t think they’ll share your distaste for Welch, and the achievements of his first two years in office.
Still, that’s democracy, and God love it.
But don’t wrap yourself in the Constitution as though no one else has righteous access to it, as though no one else can hear its cries for help. Don’t accuse your Democratic opposition of impurity, of treason against the basic principles of this country, as a way of moving votes.
Don’t start calling for heads, based on your higher understanding of the sacred writ, your loyalty to the revolution.
Because it’s a funny thing about guillotines: they’re a great deal easier to trundle out into the Square than they are to eventually trundle back in.
July 10th, 2007
Al Franken Kicks Much Coleman Ass
by Philip Baruth
Okay, so granted, Al Franken’s Senate campaign out in Minnesota has yet to pay real laugh dividends. The days of Coleman bailing his father out of jail for public sex, or injuring himself while dumpster diving, those days appear to be over.
And Franken, predictably, is playing it all very Straight. Message discipline has been imposed in both camps, that is to say.
And you and I, we who love to laugh, are the losers.
But let’s keep our eye on the prize: unseating Coleman. And to help things along, the Franken campaign is reporting nearly $2 million in contributions this quarter. And by all accounts that tops Coleman by a good several hundred thousand.
Not incidentally, Franken also out-raised his most serious Democratic opposition by a factor of three.
Does it put the Hollywood liberal image to rest? No. Does it win Franken the nomination, or the general? No.
But it shows that the man is dead serious, and if anyone else wants this thing, they’ll need to pry it out of Franken’s cold dead hands. Which is all VDB ever asks of any candidate.
That, and a classic political like Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. Franken had us at hello, when you get right down to it.
July 8th, 2007
Davenport Obama Office Burglarized; Thieves Apparently Driven by Insatiable Thirst for Obama Campaign Literature
by Philip Baruth
When was the last time you heard of a Republican campaign office being burglarized? Exactly.
Obama’s operation in Davenport, Iowa, was hit two nights ago, and by some fairly literate thieves: “Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, says that two laptop computers and some campaign literature were taken.”
Memo to future GOP “plumbing” squads: if you’re looking to simulate a routine break-in by hapless local criminals, leave the literature behind. Just a word to the wise.
July 7th, 2007
War-gaming a Sorrell Candidacy: Beating Douglas to the Fiscally Conservative Punch
by Philip Baruth
In our last installment, we imagined a head-to-head match-up between Attorney General Bill Sorrell and three-term Governor Jim Douglas. Given that Jim Douglas runs the same two-note campaign each and every time — fiscal discipline meets law-and-order — Sorrell has the potential to make at least the security issue a wash.
Whichever hot-button crime issue Douglas selects (because he is a frugal campaigner, and only ever selects one), Sorrell has fought it, prosecuted it, knows it in and out.
So much so that Douglas could quickly find himself pushed into unfamiliar territory on the law-and-order issues.
And that of course would be the fabled tipping point, where popular incumbent becomes out-of-touch incumbent.
But that still leaves fiscal discipline, the meat and potatoes of every Douglas campaign. It’s worth asking: how would Sorrell insulate himself from a devastating series of bland, disingenuous attacks on taxes?
By pointing out that Douglas didn’t create a healthy state economy, not by a long shot.
He inherited one. From Howard Dean and Bill Sorrell.
Back in 1992, Dean was entering his first full year as Governor. Dick Snelling had died the previous August, with a fiscal recovery plan roughed out for a state that was in the awkward position of borrowing to fund its ongoing operational needs.
Vermont’s fiscal health ranked last in the nation.
Dean’s Administration Secretary was Bill Sorrell. It was Sorrell who was specifically tasked with maneuvering the state out of debt — which involved turning down endless requests for funding, some, notably, from Dean himself.
Which ticked some people off. A lot, actually. So many that they nicknamed Sorrell the “Darth Vader” of the Administration.
But by June 30 of 1996, the state closed the books in the black. Barely, but in the black. And by the following year the rainy day fund (what a concept) was no longer a punch line.
So before Douglas runs his inevitable lone attack ad, accusing Sorrell of being unable to hold his fiscal water, Sorrell can put up a positive sixty-second spot of his own, clarifying this history, claiming the Dean mantle of fiscal conservatism, and drawing not incidentally on some of the current nostalgia for the 90’s engendered by seven long years of Bush-rule.
Fool-proof? Not on your life.
But conceivable, believable, achievable? Undoubtedly.
It could very well work.
And frankly, that’s what’s been sorely missing from the Democratic Party’s discussions of the upcoming Governor’s race: a focus on what we can, in fact, do.
July 4th, 2007
“I’m Not Saying No”: Attorney General Bill Sorrell Talks Turkey About the Upcoming Governor’s Race (Yes, At Hannaford’s)
by Philip Baruth
If there is something that doesn’t love a wall, as Frost maintained, then the opposite is more or less equally true: something there is that really loves a grocery store.
Some of the best conversations of my life have happened between the Seasonal Notions aisle and Frozen Foods. I don’t know why that is, but I maintain that it is, and for me Hannaford’s is the grocery store of karmic choice.
Case very much in point: the other night just before dinnertime, I’m standing in a line ten-deep, when I see Attorney General Bill Sorrell slide casually in the front door and head for Produce.
He’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt and sneakers, and he looks like he just spent about 8 hours working in his garage. (Which, it turns out, he had.)
And ordinarily I’d leave the guy in peace.
For all I know, he spent the day browbeating homicide suspects at the courthouse, or arguing with Antonin Scalia about campaign finance. Whatever he spent the day doing, he doesn’t need any complications in his supermarket experience.
Which is why I leave my line and follow the guy toward the plums.
The thing is this: I have a question for Sorrell, and it’s a question I’ve been half-meaning to ask him for the last six or seven months.
Not a hard question, either. Yes or no, really.
The background: the day after the 2006 election, I got a small flood of emails from readers who were deeply disappointed with Scudder Parker’s loss to Jim Douglas, and they already wanted to start thinking about 2008.
One of those emails put it this way: “Who makes the most sense as a gubernatorial candidate in 2008?” Not who was most likely to run, or would eventually get the nomination, or any other pragmatic concern, but who made the most sense on paper, as of November 9, 2006.
And I quickly crunched the numbers in my head and wrote back a two-word answer: “Bill Sorrell.”
Without going into the details, suffice it to say that Sorrell has spent the last ten years winning elections by bigger and bigger margins; he’s been a Deputy State’s Attorney and a State’s Attorney in addition to Attorney General.
As I’ve argued many times on VDB, Jim Douglas runs the same two-note campaign every time: he accuses his opponent of fiscal irresponsibility, then demagogues one hot-button law-and-order issue (heroin, sexual predators, civil confinement).
It’s a very minimal campaign, always, but elegant from a strategic standpoint.
At the very least, a Sorrell candidacy would make the law-and-order issue a wash; at best, it could rock Douglas back on his heels.
Interesting factoid: in 2006, Sorrell won re-election by forty points. His competition was not stellar, true, but the margin carries an undeniable message still: a solid majority of Vermonters know Sorrell, and think of him as fighting for their interests, rather than the interests of his party.
One last thing stuck in my mind as I came up behind Sorrell. It was a video from the 2006 Democratic victory party, in which Sorrell did something utterly unsorrellian: he got up on stage and danced to “La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin.
You’ll find the video here. You be the judge, but to my eye, the video seemed to show a guy who was ready to be in the limelight, ready for the main event.
Eager for it, even. Fire-in-the-belly eager.
And that’s what I finally asked him, after stopping him in front of the peppers: 2008, yes or no?
To my surprise, Sorrell didn’t dodge at all. He didn’t go the Al Gore route, which he could very easily have done. Sorrell seemed, if anything, happy to discuss it, as though it were something he’d been actively turning over in his own mind.
“I’m not saying no,” he began, and then mentioned that his last child was in fact off to college in the fall, making him “an empty nester, ready for what comes next.” He summed up by saying that he has “an interest in potentially making the run,” if not this cycle then maybe some time in the future.
All of which sounds very much like yes, I pointed out.
Sorrell smiled, didn’t deny it, shook my hand, and headed for the Deli. He’d been installing a new garage door opener all day and was apparently ravenous.
Which can be useful in a candidate for Governor. Or so they tell me.
The news: Barack Obama’s campaign raised around $32.5 million dollars last quarter. In so doing, they managed not only to best the Clinton campaign by four or five million dollars total, and not only to best the Clintons in primary dollars for the second quarter running.
Most importantly, the Obama campaign also managed to shatter their own stunning individual-donor numbers from the first quarter: Obama received donations from over 100,000 Americans last time out, but this time that number spiked to around 158,000.
Which makes for a total just shy of 260,000 individual donors so far, with six months to go until the first primary. And 90% of those donors can be resolicited, all but ensuring a very stable source of grassroots funding into the forseeable future.
Not too shabby when you consider that Obama is competing head to head with both Clintons and the fundraising network they built over nearly 40 years in politics.
And it’s worth asking: why are so many Americans giving so much to this relatively unknown Senator from Illinois? Yes, he’s a gifted orator; yes, he has a demonstrated ability to inspire audiences, voters.
And yes, he’s picked some key issues as his focus over the last two years: stopping voter harrassment and ensuring equal access to the ballot; Iraq redeployment legislation that Russ Feingold endorsed over anything put forward by the other top-tier Democrats.
But there’s clearly more at work here than that.
And I honestly believe that something more boils down to message. It’s not simply that Obama is Not Hillary, but that his message thus far has been nearly the reverse of hers.
Both Clintons have hammered a single point home: that Hillary has endured every sort of attack, and proven her ability to respond. As Bill Clinton says again and again and again in his fundraising letters, “You know Hillary will never let a swift boat-style attack go unanswered.”
Hillary herself tells audiences, “Bill and I beat the Republican machine before, and we can beat it again.”
And sure, everyone on the Left remembers John Kerry and the missed opportunities of 2004. And everyone remembers the trench warfare of the ‘90s.
But that’s the point: a majority of us remember those days, and don’t want to go back.
When you listen to Bill and Hillary, you realize that these are two people who were deeply, deeply affected — which is to say traumatized, scarred — by their punishment at the hands of a vengeful Republican Congress.
Can you imagine Laura Bush being forced to go to Capitol Hill to testify? Not likely.
And Hillary and Bill Clinton fought back, and in the process of saving their own political skins, they saved us from the worst of what used to be quaintly called the Contract on America. But that warfare took its toll.
And that, more than anything, strikes me as a red flag in the Clinton campaign. In addition to embracing Bill Clinton’s legacy, the go-go 90’s and all that comes with it, the campaign has made a conscious decision to polarize the race early as a way of firing up the Democratic base.
When you get down to it, there’s something unreasoned and not altogether pleasant in the approach. Like a Hatfield reading nasty things off a teleprompter about the McCoys: after a while, it begins to say every bit as much about the Hatfields as it does about their blood enemies.
Now, you can make the argument — and certainly more than a few have this cycle — that Obama’s message of conciliation is substance-free, or patently hypocritical, or even disturbingly naïve. When the Clinton camp vows that Hillary won’t be Swiftboated, the reference to Kerry is more or less explicit, but the implicit reference is to Obama, and current questions about his ability to handle the rough-and-tumble.
And those questions will need to be answered.
But given the choice between a candidate who predicts all-out war — and sells herself and her husband as partisan Terminators — and a candidate who imagines not peace but something more like détente, hundreds of thousands of donating Democrats and Independents are choosing to imagine too.