March 13th, 2010

Reconciliation Just Got A Lot Tastier

by Philip Baruth

There’s a curious but predictable dynamic to any Obama campaign, whether the object of that campaign is the White House, or health care reform. Obama takes the High Road; his opponent begins tossing mud. And critics talk themselves blue in the face about his passivity and overly cerebral style.

Those critics wanted Obama to hit Hillary, and hard. But when he moved smoothly by Hillary for the nomination, suddenly the problem was that he wouldn’t hit McCain, and hard. And then Obama moved smoothly past McCain, and into the White House. End of argument.

Whether this dynamic defines Obama’s strategy or his psyche, or both, it is predictable at this point. It allows Obama to develop rough consensus (not including his immediate opponents, of course) not only for his policy but for his tactics.

In the case of health care, he has allowed the process to drag out to the point where Republican obstructionism is painfully clear, to even the most hardened observer. He now has the media, all but the Right-wing advocacy media, nullified on the use of reconciliation.

And having endured so much abuse, for so very long, he and his allies can push back in ways that may finally satisfy his critics on the Left. Or at least partially satisfy them.

Case in point: it looks as though the reconciliation bill will include Obama’s push to cut out the middle men on student loans, allowing the government to issue loans directly and pass the savings on to needy students in the form of increased grants. That’s a no-brainer idea that had looked to be headed for a long, painful death in the Senate, at the hands of corporate-friendly folks on both sides of the aisle.

But now it seems within reach.

And as far as VDB’s concerned that would be some pretty tasty frosting on a cake that had seemed for months as though it would never get baked. Pretty tasty, indeed.

March 10th, 2010

Finally: Audio Comes to

by Philip Baruth

Let’s face it: work is boring. So is a great deal of life, and for this humankind invented the Internet. Just saying, if you have a few idle moments this afternoon or next, you might want to sample a new feature over at the State Senate campaign’s main website, You’ll notice that in addition to the “Video” button on the top navigation bar, there’s now a matching “Audio” button, which offers a selection of five commentaries that speak to the present moment, in one way or another.

Serious topics, but occasionally handled with a dash of humor.

College tuition, Vermont Yankee, the falling Vermont birthrate. Okay, and Richard Dreyfuss, apropos of nothing. But there it is. Enjoy it, if you have the time and the inclination.

And again, many thanks to digital black-belts Neil Jensen and Jim Brayton, for making the site a place worth visiting.

March 8th, 2010

Et Tu, Politico? Downing Michael Steele

by Philip Baruth

Look, we’ve never put too much stock in the Michael Steele show here at VDB. Don’t think we’ve ever written a post about the guy before now, in fact. Why? Because with Michael Steele the fail is so very much out front, and in that sense there’s no sport. Still, there’s an interesting dynamic developing and it’s worth noodling over for just a bit.

Fair to say that rank and file Republicans could care less about who runs the RNC. But for the power brokers and the heavy-hitting donors, it’s crucial. It’s a shrinking minority of those types who continue to support Michael Steele.

Especially in light of the fact that the GOP and the Tea Party folks and Rush Limbaugh have been flirting with an openly racist approach to the nation’s first African American President. Flirting is putting it mildly, of course.

All that talk about Barack Obama wanting to “ram health care down your throat,” all those comparisons to the way Tiger Woods treated his wife, all those weirdly pre-emptive accusations that Obama is himself a fascist racist out to dominate White America, it’s all an ugly overarching theme in search of a series of acceptable memes.

And Michael Steele stands to lose as much by it as anyone.

Steele is not only being targeted openly by other power brokers who’d like more direct access to the pie he currently divides. He’s also being undermined every day by the sense of White grievance that the far Right is actively fomenting.

And Politico has become the dagger of choice for those who want Steele gone.

Take a look at the current storylines at the site. Having broken the story of the bone-headed RNC power-point, which dissed major donors and openly embraced the politics of fear, and which was leaked to Politico by an unnamed “Democrat who found” the material, the website continues to follow up. Most recently they tracked down a prominent donor who has closed his checkbook in response to the brouhaha. And they’ve covered the digs against the RNC by prominent GOP figures.

And, not incidentally, they have a piece up this morning pointing out just how badly the RNC is lagging in fundraising. Not to put too fine a point on it, they mention that RNC totals have been falling “as tension mounts between the party’s major donors and RNC Chairman Michael Steele over his spending and style of leadership.”

Very convenient, of course, that it’s an unnamed Democrat who happened to be attending the GOP retreat and somehow got access to the inner sanctum just in time to pick up a copy of the now-infamous RNC power-point that had been carelessly left behind.

Let’s go at it with Occam’s razor for just a minute. Isn’t it much easier to believe that anti-Steele forces within the GOP conveyed the powerpoint to Politico? And that the drumbeat, which the Party is allowing to continue, is aimed at ousting Steele while the ousting is good?

Suddenly Republicans think that a new majority is within their grasp. Suddenly they realize that Michael Steele will take credit for that new majority.

Remember the way that James Carville tried to knife Howard Dean in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 midterms? Fortunately the dust settled, and the success of the 50-State Strategy was inarguable, and Carville was forced to go nurse his wounds.

But it’s a good reminder: that sort of potential win attracts pre-emptive challenges. And in a party environment like today’s Tea-infused GOP, the RNC’s first African American Chairman would seem to be highly vulnerable.

So if you were going to launch this pre-emptive attack on Steele, when would you do so for maximum effect and minimal blowback? Work back from Election Day in November. You’d need at least six months or so to clear the air of Steele’s counter-accusations.

That makes June 1 your drop-dead date. And you’ll need several months of increasing party enmity toward Steele, based on something concrete, irrefutable, and, in a best case scenario, with a visual component for the cameras.

Enter Politico’s series of scoops in late February, early March. Shake and stir for another two or three months.

Prediction? Michael packs his bags by May Day, or mid-June at the latest. And on that day, VDB will invoke the ancient wisdom: live by the sword, die by the sword.

March 3rd, 2010

15 More Towns Give Entergy Cold Shoulder, But None Colder Than Moretown, Baby

by Philip Baruth

Entergy has had a run of bad luck for the last, oh, let’s call it ten years. So how could Town Meeting Day make it any worse, right? Well, of the 17 towns that considered the question of relicensing, 15 voted in favor of denying the plant 20 more years. And in Moretown, they added this sweet amendment: “Entergy shall fund the training of Yankee’s existing workers to build and maintain green energy production systems in Vermont to replace Yankee’s power.” Ouch! And you wondered why they call it Moretown.

March 2nd, 2010

Shots From The Trail: Richmond Edition

by Philip Baruth

Direct democracy is a foundational principle of this particular Chittenden County State Senate campaign. Why start early early, for example? To allow more time to talk to more people in more towns about more issues. Plain and simple. Why make a campaign issue out of universal broadband? Because in addition to growing start-up jobs, digital access broadens the reach of our democracy, bringing in folks who would otherwise be shut-ins, or shut out.

With direct democracy so central to why we’re doing what we’re doing, where to take the campaign on Town Meeting Day? The town of Richmond, where they take this whole community decision-making idea very seriously indeed.

Not that people aren’t as nice as pie, because they are. Really, you’d be hard pressed to find a more civil group anywhere. But when the time came to ask questions about the budget, it was equally clear that serial-question-lobbing was viewed not just as fair game, but as a mark of good form.

So from the get-go, a man or woman would stand up and, using only the tables and charts available in the yearly report, string together a blistering series of budget queries that you had to love for their logic and their focus and their occasional understated wit.

I’ve fielded more than my share of questions about the Burlington school budget, which is never pretty. But this was another order of magnitude: an entire town given a chance to ask anything at all about the entire budget, with the understanding that the town doesn’t necessarily have to be satisfied with the answers.

But once they are satisfied, and the question is called, there’s something deeply pleasing in the deep, broad echo of the aye in a packed middle school gymnasium.

Thanks, Richmond.

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