January 20th, 2006

Jim Douglas: The Nixon Files

by Philip Baruth

Man, you take a minute out to sneeze and make a sandwich — and when you look back a blogospherian controversy is in full blossom.

Vermonters First has posted an amazing blast from the past: a profile of the young Governor Douglas published in Middlebury College’s student newspaper, The Campus, on Friday October 9, 1970.

The title doesn’t mince words: it’s called “Nixon’s Man on Campus.”

Sounds like hyperbole at first. But Douglas was president of the Vermont Young Republicans then, and his quotes in the article will snap your head back. The rhetoric was clearly sharpened on Nixon’s oilstone. The best paragraph:

“In relation to Vermonters, Douglas’ conservative outlook might pass unnoticed, but on a college campus Douglas is somewhat of a political loner, defending Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees (‘It was too bad for the Northern Liberals to get together and block a nomination like that’), his segregation policies (‘I’m not sure there is segregation’), Vietnamization (‘a very admirable plan’) and even the Cambodian invasion (‘I personally would have liked a little more’).”

I personally would have liked a little more.

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson refers to 1970-1971 as “this foul Year of Our Lord.” Now I know why.

There are many things to think about with this piece, or even just with the above paragraph. There are the eerie parallels, Nixon to Bush, and Douglas’s support of each: on packing the Supreme Court, on military aggression overseas, on “Vietnamization” as a way to draw a temporary veil over mounting casualties, the same sort of veil Bush is now working in Iraq.

But those parallels aren’t the most thought-provoking element of this 36-year-old paragraph, not by a long shot. Notice in that first line that author Ted Hobson takes it for granted that Douglas’s views in 1970 almost perfectly mirror the views of the average Vermonter.

That’s what I find really intriguing. The demographics and the politics of this state have shifted as dramatically as any state in America over the last four decades. We’ve gone from being one of the most reliably Conservative states in the country, to one of the most reliably Liberal. On all of these issues — race in America, packing the Supreme Court, wars of choice and the toppling of overseas governments — the majority of Vermonters have experienced a sea-change.

Yet our Governor tends to share George W. Bush’s conservative political outlook, and our Lieutenant Governor tends to share the President’s taste in flight gear.

So it’s worth asking: Have we experienced true political change as a state, or were we just flirting with ideas like social justice?

Another way to think about it is this: Why isn’t Ted Hobson the governor of Vermont in this foul Year of Our Lord, 2006?

He’s the one that got all of it right, way back when it all meant something.