March 16th, 2010

“We Will Be The Dynamite That Removes Them”: The GOP He-Said/She-Said Strategy, and Douglas’s Current War With The EPA

by Philip Baruth

About 30 years ago, Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon had a pretty nifty idea. Since the Washington Post had been an unsympathetic outlet dedicated to straight news and reporting, why not create a blatantly partisan shadow paper called the Washington Times? Make it he-said/she-said?

The implication would be that since one leaned Right, the other must lean Left, so in a heartbeat Moon could achieve two objectives: create a pet outlet for conservatives, and weaken the credibility of the paper associated with post-Watergate investigative journalism. Murdoch pursued the same tactic with Fox News, with spectacular success.

And this tactic, because it was successful, was not limited to the news. When George W. Bush set out to privatize social security, he found that the AARP was standing in his way. Answer? Hire the same team that produced the Swiftboat ads to demonize the AARP as the “liberal seniors advocacy group” and set up a competing and blatantly partisan counter-group, USA Next.

“[The AARP] are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts,” the GOP consultants were quoted as saying, “and we will be the dynamite that removes them.”

This is now standard GOP operating procedure, for discrediting reality-based institutions, and it produces reflexive political movement nationwide. Even here in Vermont. Say you’re a lameduck Governor, and your eight-year effort to clean up Lake Champlain has not borne fruit, to put it very politely.

What to do? Attack the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I think to be perfectly honest the credibility of the EPA regional office in Boston is called into question right now,” Douglas told reporters.


Douglas’s argument is that the Agency is jumping the gun, because the approved clean-up plan only went into effect 8 years ago, and hasn’t had a chance to prove its worth yet.

Or put another way, after eight years, the plan is still failing, and the EPA would like to consider strengthening it.

Which is beautiful environmental branding: Vermont, the state in whose waters you cannot swim, and whose Governor will fight to the death any stepped-up attempt to make them swimmable.

Expect this fight with the EPA to continue until Douglas exits the scene. Douglas has no intention of making any more difficult choices, not on the downslope to November. Reflexive GOP boilerplate will more than occupy the gap between now and November.

But it does raise the question, in fact a series of questions: What will Dubie do? What will Dubie do on strengthening the state’s pollution plan for the lake? Lead a charge on phosphorous run-off or the EPA? What will Dubie do on Yankee?

Every political reporter in this state knows how Dubie campaigns: in the reclining position. The plan is to say and do as little as possible. Which means that every political reporter in this state has a profound responsibility going forward: to inform voters about the extent to which Dubie will continue the policies of the Douglas Administration.

dubie plants a seed

A story like Douglas’s attack on the EPA should tail off with a follow-up story about the approach Dubie might take, with on-the-record quotes, and the approach the Democratic field might take, also with on-the-record quotes.

Anything less allows Douglas to muddy the waters, in pretty much every sense of the word.