July 8th, 2008

In Which VDB Watches Democrats and Progressives Botch The Most Predictable Question of 2008: Sexual Predators

by Philip Baruth

When your friends ask why you spend your time surfing political blogs rather than resurfacing the driveway or bleaching the bathroom grout, you tend to freeze up, babble, apologize even. But there’s no need. Tell them you read political blogs because it allows you to read tomorrow’s news today. Or even July’s news in March.

A brilliant case in point. Back in March, VDB sat down with Anthony Pollina, then the only candidate on the Left officially in the race against Douglas. We tried our level best to warn him about the classic Douglas two-note campaign strategy, as seen in the exchange below.

* * *

VDB: Okay. That’s great. Let me just go to the second note of the two-note Jim Douglas re-election strategy. The first note is the series of ads accusing the opponent of being a wild-eyed tax-addict.

The second is to pick up on some hot-button local security issue. So in his first run, against Doug Racine, it was heroin, and what he called “a Megan’s Law for drug dealers.” What Douglas said in that race was simple: “We need a Megan’s law for drug dealers, because heroin is here, it’s scary, and our children need to be protected.”

And what Racine was saying was that we didn’t need a law like this, that we were doing pretty much okay on the problem as it stood. Not hard to see how Douglas might pick up that final 8 or 9% he needed among last-minute deciders.

Then it was sexual predators, and civil commitment. On civil commitment [holding sex offenders past the stated term of their sentence], Scudder Parker got crunched in precisely the same way: essentially arguing for the status quo on a hot-button issue, while Douglas dropped his voice into low register and said, “Look, we need to protect our children, and I’ll go that extra step.”

Now, you know you’re going to be running up against that —

Pollina: Sure.

VDB: — it’s just yet to be framed yet, what this tough-on-crime issue will be. And when that happens, as with the tax argument, I’m assuming you’re already thinking through how to make the argument on it that you want to make. Without going into the fear mongering aspect of it, how do you plan to make that affirmative argument yourself, that a Pollina administration will not see criminals loosed in the streets . . .

* * *

Predictably enough, Pollina answered our question with a long discourse on early public education, almost entirely ignoring the real thrust of the question, which was this: when Douglas begins to thunder about sexual predation and civil commitment, how will you prevent yourself from losing this election?

We tried several times to follow up, but Pollina refused to let himself be drawn away from liberal orthodoxy on the issue.

And in this morning’s Herald, right on schedule, is a nice article by Louis Porter, in which Douglas and Dubie use the Brooke Bennett killing to argue for tougher, longer mandatory sentences for such depraved crimes (“Dubie Starts Push For Longer Sentences”).

groundhog day, the comedy

VDB feels like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, to put it mildly. Of course, Murray learned something important over the course of his infinite imprisonment in Punxsutawney, and he was finally allowed to score with Andie MacDowell and go home.

But the Center-Left has learned absolutely nothing about Jim Douglas, and the way to win a statewide race for Governor. Nothing.

The proof? Dick Sears and Gaye Symington, now herself a full-time candidate for Governor, spend their time in Porter’s article making what Symington admits is the “counter-intuitive” case against tough mandatory sentences for criminals like those who killed Brooke Bennett.

Sure, Sears and Symington have an intellectual case to make, predicated on the idea that such mandatory minimums give killers more incentive to go to trial, where they sometimes go free.

the crowd, huddled

But recent history couldn’t be any more plain-spoken: Jim Douglas will win this election talking up a Vermont version of Jessica’s Law. To put it into context, it is the exact same strategy he used in his first race, where he thundered about a Meghan’s Law for drugdealers, and erased Doug Racine’s ten-point lead in the final week.

The Governor has only changed the name, people.

One word. It is the exact same strategy. He will always find some Law to promote, with the name of some poor unfortunate girlchild attached to it.

And the Democratic response, in this case, is not counter-intuitive. It’s suicidal.

And suicide, when you’ve done it three or four times running, isn’t painless. Not by a long shot.

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  1. on July 10th, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    […] VDB: If I could, I’d like to go straight to today’s headline in the Rutland Herald (“Dubie Begins Push For Longer Sentences”), a nice Louis Porter story but to my mind an utterly predictable development in the race. In fact, I did a post this morning, where I went back to my interview with Anthony Pollina in March, and back then — without knowing of course that Brooke Bennett would be horribly, brutally murdered — I talked to Pollina about the possibility of something just like this being used in the campaign. I pointed out that Jim Douglas always runs against his Democratic or Progressive opposition by painting them as tax-and-spend liberals, and then he has one hot-button social issue. Last couple of times out, it’s been sexual predation and, as an offshoot of that, civil commitment. […]

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