March 21st, 2011

Legend of the Gundersens, Talk-Radio Edition: Rush Limbaugh, Once Hailed As “Big Fat Idiot,” Still Pretty Much All Three (Now With Hot Vernon Vigil Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Got a call from PRI (Public Radio International) the other day, a show called “Living On Earth,” a particular VDB favorite. The reporter wanted to know if it was a good time to ask an important question about Vermont Yankee. Then came the sound of papers rustling, and the reporter asked solemnly, “Do you have Arnie Gundersen’s email address?” And that, of course, was the question.

Post-Japan, everyone wants Gundersen’s number, because our reactor down in Vernon is the same make and generation as those melting down across the Pacific. And Arnie has called every major debacle at Vermont Yankee over the last six years, one after the other after the other. Collapsing cooling tower? Check. Underground piping, both existence of and tritium pluming from? Double check.

Since the Japanese tsunami, Gundersen and his wife Maggie have been running a busy ersatz press shop out of their New North End home: local volunteers answering calls, hundreds of press queries piling up via email, and of course Arnie being interviewed by phone, more or less non-stop.

Gratifying, for a couple once dismissed by both the nuclear industry and the mainstream media as doom-sayers from the lunatic fringe.

Still, how do you know if you’ve really made the big time, if you’re really having an impact on the national debate?

Answer: Rush Limbaugh suddenly hates your guts.

better?Strange timing — given that Al Franken delivered the keynote at Saturday night’s Curtis Dinner, and it was Franken who kicked off the liberal Limbaugh counter-attack back in the day with the bestselling Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot — but Rush Limbaugh is doing his best to make Gundersen a Conservative talking point unto himself.

“There’s a guy out there named Arnold Gundersen,” Limbaugh growled to listeners last Thursday.

“He’s not an unbiased expert by any stretch. Google his name: Arnold Gundersen.”

Rush mumbled on about axes to grind and bananas having more radiation naturally than any Japanese plume that might hit California, doing his best to make coverage of the Japanese situation seem biased and partisan and childish.

But you can sense something deeper, if you read through the transcript, a certain very particular peevish quality that has become familiar to Vermonters over the last handful of years: the spectacle of a very wealthy and powerful nuclear booster confronted by the utterly exasperating accuracy of Gundersen’s analysis.

Once it was Ex-Entergy CEO Wayne Leonard choking on his breakfast. Now it’s Rush. But the match-up is equally delicious.

Gorty and Arnie
Arnie, in yellow, left, discusses corporate mendacity with Gorty Baldwin at the Hamburger Summit

Maggie, Hamburger Summit, 2007

How envious is VDB? Once, back in the day, we wrote a novel about Bill Clinton and time-travel, and among the various temporal permutations and historical revisions we had Rush Limbaugh enjoying a secret affair with Mary Matalin. Bantam Books was concerned enough to send the book out for a third legal opinion, and the lawyers eventually signed off, pointing out that anyone who could mistake a time-travel story for reality would need to be one nugget shy of a Happy Meal.

Still, there was the fantasy that Rush would get wind of the story, and attack it on air. What better way to know that you’re fighting the good fight? What better way to demonstrate your essential sanity and true heart to the 95% of the country you couldn’t pay to listen to Rush? What better way to peddle a butt-load of books?

Work it, Arnie. It may take you a while, but you’re eventually going to drive this guy right back to the oxycontin. And VDB is loving it.

Late Update, 10:26 am:

Photos and email descriptions now trickling in from yesterday’s vigil for Japan, held before the gates of Vermont Yankee down in Vernon. The crowd was somewhere between 500 and 600, judging from the various estimates, and that’s 500+ sane, smart good-hearted folks who spent much of that time in silence, honoring the dead across the Pacific. Oh, and a cameraman from Japan’s NHK TV, and a small group of Buddhist drummers. Would have loved to be there.

And a hat-tip of course to NY Times stringer Annie Guyon, who brought her daughter Ellie to the vigil, and then talked said daughter out of the photos below after the fact. Many thanks to you both.