September 14th, 2007

Bush Speech Makes Welch Use The P-Words

by Philip Baruth

Predictably, the Vermont delegation was four-square against the President and his vision for an “enduring” presence in Iraq. But only Congressman Peter Welch let fly with the actual P-words.

kennedy, welch, leahy
Nearly but not quite the actual Vermont delegation: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Welch, Leahy.

“President Bush has no strategy in Iraq other than running out the clock on his presidency, knowing that this war will soon be another President’s burden. It is imperative that Congress finally use the power of the purse to end this war and bring our troops home.”

During Watergate, all wisdom boiled down to three words: follow the money. Iraq is a tad more complicated, and requires four: power of the purse.

Full props to Welch for using them.

September 14th, 2007

Club Obama Event Bears Out Obama Rule: Attendance = Expectations x 2 ++

by Philip Baruth

Without getting into specifics, it’s fair to say that VDB has participated in some bush-league events over the years. Many events, in fact, which tried desperately but ultimately failed even to rise to the bush-league.

the metronome

Events where you whisper only two prayers: that someone will kill you, and that no one will resuscitate.

Like reading for 40 minutes to one lone gentleman in South Bend, Indiana — a retired, slightly deaf UPS driver who got more than a little testy when he heard the store was thinking of cancelling the show.

And of course other events that make even the ill-fated South Bend reading-of-one seem festive and productive by comparison.

But the Obama campaign has changed all that.

We’ve written about the Obama Rule before, the loaves-and-fishes quality of any audience queuing up for any Obama event. People come streaming steadily out of the woodwork, multiply before your eyes.

If you bring a dozen donuts, turns out you need 35. If you expect 20, you’ll get 58.

the crowd

And so on, and so on. Not entirely certain if there’s any upper mathematical limit to this rule, but if there is, VDB has yet to chart it.

Our best guess for last night’s Club Obama event was a crowd somewhere just south of 50, which would have been just fine for a Wednesday night 4 months before New Hampshire, and 7 months before Vermont’s own primary.


Neil Jensen, who had advanced the event down to the last minute detail, had conservatively lined up about 40 chairs — always good to undershoot rather than overshoot when it comes to chairs, as Sam Brownback can tell you.


But by the time the main event got underway at 7:00, attendance was hovering at around 110 or so, we had a satellite truck giving hourly updates, and getting a beer at the bar was suddenly a very dicey affair. We had print journalists and political bloggers, and in Seven Days’ Peter Freyne we managed to have both simultaneously.

Peter Freyne

We had one of the best amateur photographers I’ve ever seen in ex-Dean staffer Jim Brayton.

All of which made a certain logical sense: we had three very influential Vermont politicians publicly endorsing Obama on the same stage, on the same night.

Former Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, and Attorney General Bill Sorrell all came with the same message for the crowd: they support this movement candidacy not because of what’s wrong with Hillary or Edwards, but because of what’s unambiguously right with Barack Obama.

jeb spaulding

It was an almost audible cracking of the ice that has kept the Left frozen in place for the bulk of this primary season.

Because of the quality and the strength of the Democratic top-tier, and because the frontloaded calendar has moved events along at such a murderous clip — and frankly because Hillary Clinton and her husband remain well-respected icons even for those inclined to support another candidate — high-profile politicians have been reluctant to endorse, not only here but nationwide.

more crowd

So last night’s three thumbs up made news, of the best sort.

And all of the invited guests — Clavelle, Spaulding, and Sorrell — gave their endorsements with authentic excitement, real passion. Jeb Spaulding talked about the varied texture of Obama’s background, from Hawaii to Indonesia to Chicago to the Senate, and what that might mean for America’s standing in the world.

Out of office for the last sixteen months, Peter Clavelle was fresh from a bit of international travel himself, and he seemed really to relish having a hometown political crowd to whip up again.

Peter Clavelle

Sorrell, for his part, was walking on air: just hours before, Judge William K. Sessions III had upheld Vermont’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gasses emitted by cars and light trucks — rejecting each and every one of the auto industry’s myriad defenses.

Bill Sorrell

Sorrell wore his hair a little long, a blazer and a black t-shirt instead of a tie, and seemed generally to be living large and loving life. His Top Ten Reasons to Support Obama veered from the comic to the deadly serious, and back again.

The crowd, for its part, was made up of the sort of people who always seem to show up at Obama gatherings: people who want not only to get out of Iraq but to go somewhere different and better once we do.

even more crowd

It was a very positive message, taken all together, marred by only one brutal partisan who told jokes at the expense of Karl Rove and Senator Larry Craig for a solid ten minutes.

Philip Baruth

It was the sort of event that money can’t buy. You can’t pay people to sweat the details the way Neil did in the weeks prior to last night. You can’t pay people to gently encourage public endorsements the way that Mary Sullivan — a quiet force of nature in her own right — has for the last six months.

Okay, you can pay them. But what they produce will be workmanlike, not inspired, and not inspiring.

VDB once wrote a novel about Burlington, a novel told in stories, and the original idea was to have every one of the pieces in the book set in the Metronome. It seemed, in the mid-90’s, like the center of the universe.

Eventually the book went in other directions, but there’s always this distinct sense of deep familiarity and false deja vu passing the joint on the street.

And somehow that made it even nicer last night, to walk up the dark staircase out of Nectar’s and into an event that we never could have imagined alone.

[Many thanks to Jim Brayton, for the first-rate photos accompanying this post. And the WCAX footage and story — featuring a break-out performance by Rip and Read’s Alex Ball — can be found here.]

September 13th, 2007

Watching History Not Get Made

by Philip Baruth

Last night, about 7 pm, a junior Welch staffer happened to look out the window and catch General David Petraeus finally exiting Congressional hearings, hearings that could have been a national turning point — but weren’t, of course.

petraeus, leaving the scene
General David Petraeus, just right of woman in red.

We like the heavy symbolism of the mini wrecking-ball hanging over the scene. Very Oliver Stone somehow.

September 12th, 2007

Club Obama Tonight. Metronome. Aloha.

by Philip Baruth

A very nice write-up of tonight’s (Wednesday’s) Club Obama event by Louis Porter in the Herald today. Porter cuts to the steak behind the sizzle: “The presidential primaries are still months away, but today several prominent Vermont politicians are expected to formally endorse Democratic candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.”

obama, on the picket line

Indeed. Those politicians would be Attorney General Bill Sorrell, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, and former Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle. Any one of whom, we might add, could be giving us easily twice as much Governor for our money as we currently get.

But with all due respect to serious journalism, let’s not ignore the sizzle entirely, because the whole point of the event is to make politics fun again.

That’s right: The party tonight takes place at the Metronome, one of VDB’s favorite downtown night-spots, in the mythic space just above Nectar’s. Doors open at 5, but the main event won’t go down until 6:30 or so.

There is no cover. No one will put the arm on you for cash.

If you’re only Obama-curious, no one will judge you.

And after the speakers, we relax and mingle and have a drink and settle some of the more pressing existential political questions of our age.

Why, for instance, are Chris Dodd’s eyebrows so deeply frightening? Can “Brownback” be used as a verb, and in what contexts?

See you tonight. And bring the kids. It’s an all-ages event.

the club

September 12th, 2007

Says George Will: “The Surge Has Failed”

by Philip Baruth

We know, we know: the Petraeus report has been treated like the Second Coming. Republicans have been reverential; Democrats deferential.

georgeAnd it’s easy to believe that this long-awaited “See you in September” moment is doomed to pass without significant pushback on the administration’s Endless Surge strategy.

But not all significant Republicans are on board, not by a long shot.

Today’s case in point: George Will. In a column called “A War Still Seeking a Mission,” Will initially sounds like a Arianna Huffington minus the accent:

“Before Gen. David Petraeus’s report, and to give it a context of optimism, the president visited Iraq’s Anbar province to underscore the success of the surge in making some hitherto anarchic areas less so. More significant, however, was that the president did not visit Baghdad. This underscored the fact that the surge has failed, as measured by the president’s and Petraeus’s standards of success.”

Of course, Will can’t bring himself to call for the withdrawal of combat troops, and he insists that most will still be in-country as of January 2009.

But if this is the thinking of one of the Right’s chief intellectual barometers, then the forecast isn’t entirely bleak for you and me.

Late Update, Wednesday, 6:13 am:

And lookee what we have here: Elizabeth Dole is now warning that she will look favorably on “action-forcing” measures moving through the Senate.


Dole, right, flirts openly and shamelessly with flailing Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman

Again, you can see the deep penetration of Democratic talking points into even very conservative members of the GOP. Not co-optation of those talking points, mind you, but an acceptance forced by and based upon overwhelming public opinion:

“The difficulty of the current American and Iraqi situation is rooted in large part in the Bush administration’s substantial failure to understand the full implications of our military invasion and the litany of mistakes made at the outset of the war,” Dole said.

Failure being the operative word, of course.

September 11th, 2007

Largest Story So Far Buried Beneath the Mountain of Petraeus Hearings Coverage

by Philip Baruth

No doubt you missed it, given the roadblock coverage of General Petraeus and his novel “Endless Surge” strategy, but Larry Craig’s mouthpiece roadtested the Senator’s latest legal gambit via NBC: “Senator Craig stepped into that bathroom to do a perfectly legal function.

Craig in boa

How elegant, as legal solutions go: in America, we’re free to defecate pretty much where and when we will — we’re the envy of the world in that way — but apparently the Minneapolis airport police hate our freedom.

And this whole fiendishly clever courtroom strategy timed to drop on the anniversary of 9/11. Brilliant.

We may well have underestimated this Senator Craig: he may be closeted and hypocritical like a gay fox.

September 10th, 2007

Petraeus Lip-Synching January War Report

by Philip Baruth

We were going to write a long post criticizing Bush war strategy today, but then we had a sober, moderate, even liebermaniacal thought: why don’t we all wait until General Petraeus makes his report in September?

Then we remembered: it is September. And the report was written in January.

September 10th, 2007

GREEN LIVING JOURNAL Comes to the North Country; Shapiro To Lead the Surge

by Philip Baruth

Always nice when the good people land the good jobs.

ellen shapiroOne of my favorite things about the 2006 campaign cycle was running into Ellen Shapiro, then writing for Vermont Woman.

No matter the bone-crushing dullness of the speech, Ellen managed to add just enough savvy to make it survivable.

And now, not surprisingly, Ellen’s got the fast-track on a very savvy new project indeed: she’s been named publisher of Green Living Journal, Champlain Edition.

Those of you down in the Southern tip of the state are already familiar with GLJ, especially those in Brattleboro. It’s a free publication that looks to publish the best environmental writing available.

The founder of the project, Stephen Morris, describes it like so:

“Our concept is similar to that of the Utne Reader. The local media do a good job of covering environmental news, so we don’t want to duplicate their efforts. We’re trying to bring voices and stories from writers whose work does not generally appear in the local market. This approach has enabled us to publish some of the top names in environmental journalism.”

Hard to believe it took 17 years to make it to Northern Vermont but better late than never. And if anyone can make it sing, it’s Ellen.

Got environmental writing you’ve been sitting on because you weren’t sure where to send it? Take another look at the photo above. That’s where you should send it.

September 7th, 2007

Don’t Miss The VDB Sit-Down With Senator Pat Leahy: “Tales From the Rusty Scuffer”

by Philip Baruth

If you missed our long sit-down with Senator Leahy earlier in the week, then by all means enjoy it with a cup of good strong coffee one morning this weekend.

leahy with soldier

Among other revelations: when Leahy introduced Jerry Garcia to the late Strom Thurmond in the Senate Dining Room, panic more or less ensued.


September 7th, 2007

Okay, So Odum Doesn’t Like the Name, But Club Obama Will Still Party Like It’s 2009

by Philip Baruth

It is apparently the season for endorsements, even from the coldest-eyed strategists on the Left. Case in point: John Odum finally makes public his support for John Edwards, which has been apparent but sub rosa for the last six months or so.

And good for Odum.

me and odum

It’s past time to decide, especially for those who might prefer the White House to be occupied by neither Clintons nor Bushes come 2009. And John makes a long case for preferring Edwards to Obama, useful for those of you still rethinking those two options.

Of course, there is one place we differ substantially. Odum really, really dislikes the handle for Wednesday’s event at Club Metronome: Club Obama.

We, however, dig it. And we dig the line-up: appearances and endorsements by Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, former Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle, and of course a cast of thousands.

the club

The Metronome, for out-of-towners, is located above Nectar’s on Main Street in Burlington. Doors open at 5, with the main event scheduled to get underway just about 6:30. Talk, music, drinks until 9 pm.

Think seriously about stopping in, especially if you missed last summer’s BBQ. A perfect time to talk and plot strategy.

And make no mistake: we plan to party like it’s 2009. January 20th, 2009, to be specific.

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