August 31st, 2008

I Thought Vermont Was For Lovers

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: In its most recent study, the US Census Bureau reported that Vermont had the nation’s second lowest rate of fertility. Predictably enough, this has sent Commentator Philip Baruth into a tailspin of depression.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #219: I Thought Vermont Was For Lovers

Man, I don’t know about you, but last week’s Census Bureau report hit me like a sucker punch, right in the gut.

I was in a bar after work, feeling pretty good, you know, and this big guy sitting next to me from Nebraska starts telling me all about it: that Vermont has the nation’s second lowest fertility rate, just 42.2 births for every 1,000 women.

And of course it turns out that Nebraska has the nation’s second highest rate, something like 70 births for every thousand Nebraskan women.

So after he’s finished crowing about it, this Nebraska guy pats me on the shoulder, struts out to his pick-up and thunders on down the Interstate, like he’s got places to go, if you know what I mean. And I’m left sitting there on the barstool, thinking: second to last place, in the nation?

Maybe it’s all the Olympics coverage from Beijing, but that statistic was really depressing somehow. I thought Vermont was for lovers.

So the next day at work I looked up the report, and sure enough, we were second to last. The experts gave two reasons: our homogenous population, and our high rate of education.

I guess, when you strip it all away, that means that A) we’re can’t get all that excited about ourselves because somehow we remind us too much of, you know, ourselves, and B) we’re educated enough to realize that if we do have kids, we’ll have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive them to hockey.

So for the rest of the afternoon, I tried concentrating on our high rate of education, and it helped a little. But just before I left work, I got a call from an old friend out in Utah, which, by the way, has the nation’s highest fertility rate by a longshot. As we talked I could swear there was just a little teeny bit of smug self-satisfaction in his voice.

And that left me more deflated than ever.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed. Because I realized that I had never checked which state was the only state with a lower birth rate than ours. So I got up and powered up the computer, went to Google, and bingo bango, there it was: New Hampshire. Vermont has a .02 % edge.

Ah! What a relief! I went back to bed, and I’m here to tell you, I slept like a baby, and not just any baby but a baby born in a state with a higher fertility rate than its next-door neighbor. After we were forced to watch New Hampshire get all the attention and hoopla last year during Presidential primary season, suddenly we were on top.

So the next day after work, I figured — for a change of pace — I’d stop by a bar in New Hampshire on my way home. It was only a couple hours out of my way, and I’d heard good things about New Hampshire bars.

So I eventually find one in Laconia, and I sit down next to this guy, and one thing leads to another, and I happen to mention our slightly higher birth rate.

And this New Hampshire guys looks at me, with a totally straight face, and he says, “Yeah, that’s because we have a slightly higher rate of education.”

And you know something? That made sense.

Then the guy got up, patted me on the shoulder, strutted out to his pickup, and thundered on down the road. Which left me sitting there, in a strange bar in New Hampshire, feeling like an eight-time gold medalist in the Olympic sport of losing.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

August 27th, 2008

A Final Note on Convention Coverage

by Philip Baruth

I had originally intended to be posting simultaneously to VDB, and to the special event blog at the Free Press, “The Deal in Denver.” My idea was to swap coverage, and to give each site bits exclusive unto itself. But clearly I was an idiot. It’s all I can do to stay abreast of the crowd here in Denver. I haven’t got a minute to iron a shirt, let alone resize photos and double-post. And it’s all I can do to get Al Franken elected out in Minnesota. You see what I’m saying.

So please consider the “Deal in Denver” the single site for my coverage of the Convention. It’s available here. Come Labor Day, though, I’ll be back at the VDB command center, as always.

And thanks much for your encouraging email on the coverage so far. Greatly appreciated.

August 25th, 2008

Part One: The Baggage They Carried

by Philip Baruth

Part One:
The Baggage They Carried

You have to pack carefully for Denver, in late August of 2008. Very carefully. You have to pack more or less as if your life depends upon it, because — in more than a few versions of the ongoing story of Senator Barack Obama and his uncharted Democratic National Convention — it does.

obama II, 2/10/07

Which is to say that you’ve got both your physical and your narrative baggage, and the chances are excellent that between them they’ll trigger a $50 weight penalty when you hit the United Airlines gate a little after dawn on Monday morning.

On the physical end, it’s not just socks and shoes.

You’ve got the things that people have pressed into your hands at gatherings around the state, objects and talismans they want you to keep on your person: a pinkish worry stone to rub “if it turns out there’s a riot or something”; a campaign button you admired, showing Barack and Michelle and their girls lounging on a lawn somewhere, beneath the line, “America’s First Family”; a tiny unflattering plastic replica of Ann Coulter because “if she’s in your pocket then she can’t possibly show up in person.”

You’ve got the stack of invitations, which began arriving the moment you were elected delegate. None of these invitations are to the madcap parties you sort of half-expected. None of them are from Democratic celebrities or movers and shakers.

Not one. No Al Gore, no Bono, no Oprah or Bonnie Raitt.

No, your invitations all come from painfully earnest organizations hosting Long, Serious Panel Discussions about all of the things that make for uneasy listening: race, war, health care, famine, stolen elections, squandered surpluses, and peak oil, the end of American life as we know it.

On the brighter side, you’re invited to tour an exact replica of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay — something you fully plan to do — but what does it say that this mini-prison looks like the most fun of anything anyone seems to want you to attend?

You have to carry all of these things, and that’s just the physical baggage. The narrative side of things is just as heavy, and just as dicey.

Two overarching and intertwining media narratives have taken shape in the long months prior to this Convention, and they now not only dominate the pre-Convention coverage but have inevitably begun to shape the events themselves.

One of these is The Making of History, and the other is Violence in the Making, and at this point each carries with it the indelible stain of the other.

It is no coincidence that Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech. Howard Dean and the Convention planners knew full well that whether Obama secured the nomination or not, this cycle would see an African American advance much further in the campaign process than ever before.

And had Hillary Clinton pulled the nomination out of her hat, no doubt Obama would have introduced her on that same night with a tribute to King. Each major Party has its icons, and icons have anniversaries, and so the 28th of August was circled on planning calendars years ago.

Of course, Hillary did not pull it out, which led to the hasty elevation of another anniversary to the planners’ calendars: on the 26th of August, Hillary’s own historic candidacy will be honored, even as all assembled commemorate the 88th anniversary of women acquiring the right to vote.

But for all of their staging and management, these historic elements are also undeniably authentic.

In the Convention Hall and in tens of millions of living rooms, they will feel spine-chillingly real because they are nothing less, and they highlight great changes in American society that cannot be denied.

And maybe because that sense of historical significance is so clear, and so weighted to the Democratic side of the aisle, a twin media narrative has formed to counterbalance it: all of this Hope can end only in confusion, in chaos, in violence.

How many times, for instance, have you heard reporters invoke the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? You even heard audio this week, a young Dan Rather being sucker-punched by one of Mayor Daley’s “thugs.” Granted, Obama hails from Chicago, and so maybe you could have expected nothing else.

But it’s a lot more than the Chicago parallel.

For months, Rush Limbaugh has gloated over the possibility of riots on the streets of Denver, of Hillary’s forces stealing the nomination and tearing the Party to pieces. A few weeks back, a preacher from Focus on the Family taped a now infamous YouTube clip, exhorting the faithful to pray for “torrential, flood-the-intersections” rain come Thursday night.

Additionally, there’s been a running drumbeat of coverage about the arming of the Denver riot police.

They’ll be packing all sorts of high-tech crowd control devices, you’re told: goo-guns, which shoot a quick-drying glop that renders resistance futile; pepper-ball guns, which offer a sub-lethal two-fer, the initial impact and the disabling cayenne dust; microwave cannons, which give protesters the novel sensation that their skin is on fire.

(And then you always have to worry about the various combinations of weaponry: if the riot police decide to coat you with goo first, then lightly pepper you, and then microwave you for four to five minutes, you could wind up a Lean Cuisine entrée, serves 6-8.)

At the worst extreme of this Violence in the Making narrative, of course, is the Kennedy connection.

It’s no accident that Hillary Clinton’s quick comment about RFK’s 1968 assassination generated a firestorm a few months back — it sparked a narrative already building silently but surely beneath the surface of the campaign coverage.

John F. Kennedy also stepped out of the comparatively narrow confines of the Convention Hall to receive the nomination at a larger arena. Clearly, by moving Thursday’s speech to Invesco Field, the Obama camp wants to highlight that connection, as they’ve sought to play up connections to Camelot throughout.

But pull almost any Kennedy thread for long enough, and eventually you find that the concept of assassination is tangled up somewhere, inextricably, in the weave.

The making of history, and violence in the making. Unavailable separately, limited time offer, which makes for must-see TV.

All of this is a lot of baggage to carry, when you think about it, and you need to wedge it into a very small suitcase these days. And then you have to schlep that bag all the way from Vermont to Colorado, and then another full Mile High.

You’d have to be insane to agree to lug all of it, all of that way. You’d either have to be insane, or absolutely committed to seeing Barack Obama put his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office on January 20th, 2009, as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Or both.

[This post appeared first on “The Deal in Denver,” a special event blog set up by the kind folks over at the Burlington Free Press. You can visit that site, for more and different coverage, by clicking here.]

August 22nd, 2008

The Shape of Denver Coverage to Come

by Philip Baruth

Having campaigned as an Obama delegate on my ability to bring you key coverage of the Convention in Denver, I thought long and hard about how to structure that coverage. Ideally, the reach would include not just hard-core junkies, but folks just now becoming interested in the race for the White House. To that end, VDB will be partnering with the Burlington Free Press, and you’ll be able to catch posts at either web site, with some content unique and exclusive to each.

At this point, it looks as though the Free Press website will direct you from the home page to the special event blog, The Deal In Denver. Either a photo or an icon will allow you to navigate to it, but in any event I’ll post a direct link to it here on VDB before I leave for Denver.

My hope is that the expanded coverage will allow you more bang for your buck, more ways to enjoy an event that can’t help but be mind-blowing. Because I owe you all: I wouldn’t be packing my bags if VDB readers hadn’t provided the backbone of support at the statewide convention in Barre.

Email questions or comments, as always; regardless of location, VDB haunts the keyboard, waiting for mail.

Aloha for now.

August 22nd, 2008

The Sweet Advantages of Incumbency: Dubie Rescues Kids from Castro Edition

by Philip Baruth

Always tough to run against an incumbent, but especially tough when they have the ability to pick up the phone and save a peck of Little League tykes from Castro’s evil clutches. The headline is ballot-box gold (”Dubie Helps Little Leaguers Get Home From Cuba”) but the article is even better: a single phone call from Dubie whips up a jet, pilots, flight attendants, peanuts and sodas to swoop in and rescue a Little League team stranded in Cuba by Hurricane Faye.

Dubie, hard at work

Absolutely tailor-made. Dubie also works for the airline in question; that and the fact that he moonlights as Lieutenant Governor apparently did the trick.

But the number one reason why Dubie lucked out here? He was actually at his desk, when the call came in. And what are the chances of that, when you think about it?

August 22nd, 2008

$520 Italian Shoe Clearly on Other Foot

by Philip Baruth

You can’t possibly have missed the coverage today about McCain’s many homes, fueled by his own odd inability to total them up for Politico. The gaffe has given Obama’s new populist push a kick-off beyond the campaign’s wildest dreams. The best clue to how flustered it has the GOP machine? Heard Rush Limbaugh on the way to work, fulminating and defending McCain by pointing out that he, Limbaugh, also has a grand total of seven homes. Sweet.

August 20th, 2008

Anthony Pollina Officially Jumps Couch

by Philip Baruth

Look, no one can ever say that we didn’t take Pollina seriously this time out. We conducted a detailed interview with him long before Gaye Symington was even a twinkle in Ian Carleton’s eye; we openly pondered the chances of Progressives and Democrats uniting behind his latest run for Governor. But now, here in August of 2008, VDB is here to tell you: Anthony Pollina is officially batshit crazy.

It’s not just that he switched party affiliations at the last moment, opting to drop the Progressive label in favor of Independent; it’s not just that he made the switch without thinking through the campaign finance implications of leaving the major parties.

“This is new information,” Pollina said, when informed that becoming an Independent would cost him nearly $30K in early contributions.

No, what makes the guy Cruise-on-couch nuts is that Pollina has apparently made the decision to keep the controversial cash. Forever.

Even though the Secretary of State has told him, in no uncertain terms, that doing so violates the letter of the law.

If misreading the campaign finance regulations in the first place was a crippling mistake, doubling down on that error is a death blow. Especially for a guy who claims campaign finance reform as a major area of personal expertise.

It boils down to this, Anthony: you can survive switching parties without warning, even two or three times, and you can survive a negative ruling on your finances, by going bare bones, or begging more from the Progressive faithful.

But you cannot survive a public knife fight with Deb Markowitz. Not where the particulars of election law are concerned. Not after Labor Day, when suddenly everyone is watching. No way, no how.

So consider that particular couch jumped. And not just jumped, but jumped real good.

August 19th, 2008

Finally: Someone Films McCain’s Cribs

by Philip Baruth

One of the most maddening elements of American politics is the way that GOP millionaires routinely manage to be taken as regular guys and gals by the media. McCain is just the latest in this long line of poseurs, but more successful than most, given his fairly opulent lifestyle. But Brave New Films begs to differ. Very bracing and effective stuff.