March 29th, 2006

Martha Can’t Make Up Her Mind

by Philip Baruth

Let’s suppose for a minute that Roy Blunt — a slippery Republican Congressman with ties to Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay — shipped a $2,000 PAC check to Mark Shepard, Martha Rainville’s opponent in the upcoming Republican primary.

Now let’s suppose that Shepard first denies that he ever received the check. And then — when Blunt doggedly sends him a duplicate — Shepard says he had no idea that Blunt’s PAC is a conduit for money amassed by Delay and Abramoff, both currently facing trial and potential jail time.

In this scenario, Shepard also says that he had no idea that Blunt’s fund leans heavily on money from Big Tobacco — a source of funds Shepard has previously said he will reject. And he begins to float the idea that everyone is washing everyone’s back in Washington, so everyone is tainted and no one can be held accountable: “All the members in a sense are associated with each other in Washington . . . There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and I’m not going to pre-judge anybody.”

Finally, let’s suppose that once cornered about the Blunt-Delay money, Shepard chooses — quite bluntly — to delay: “This is something we may well need to look into,” he says, to which his campaign spokesman adds a little hotly, “It’s a personal decision for Mark, as to who he wants to accept money from and who he does not want to accept money from.”

And finally, let’s say this delaying tactic goes on for months.

What would be the conventional wisdom about Mark Shepard, at the end of those months of dithering? Let VDB hazard a series of guesses:

1) The mainstream media would agree that Shepard’s campaign was not ready for prime time. Stories would begin to appear leaning heavily on the words “stumble” and “bizarre.”

2) Shepard would be characterized personally as either indecisive or stubborn, even pig-headed. Having said previously that he would not accept campaign money from tobacco interests, his public shilly-shallying over the Blunt PAC cash would be taken for outright hypocrisy.

3) A second wave of stories would then appear, comparative in nature, pointing to the relative competence of Martha Rainville’s campaign. Where Shepard — on the strength of the Blunt/Delay/PAC debacle — would be figured as either too willful or not willful enough, Rainville would be drawn in bold, even heroic lines. Rainville runs an ethical and competent campaign, this sort of story would argue implicitly, and therefore she’ll bring a new broom to a dirty Congress.

Right. Now, let’s get real.

The narrative above is, of course, a pretty accurate summary of the Rainville camp’s actual handling of actual PAC money from actual Washington insiders under actual indictment.

The campaign’s treatment of the issue has swerved from laughable denial, to delay, to odd claims of personal privilege (“It’s a personal decision for Martha”). It seems fairly clear that the campaign will ultimately reject the donation; they’re clumsy, but not stupid.

Which begs the question: Why drag it out? Why allow it to appear and re-appear in the Free Press and the Guardian (both of whom have been fairly dogged on the issue)?

The answer: Martha can’t make up her mind.

And her campaign staff is too inexperienced or thumb-fingered to push her to do so.

Only when that second wave of stories appears — not stories about the donation itself, but stories in which the donation becomes a metaphor for a stumbling campaign — will Martha get off the dime and do the right thing.

And that’s the heart of VDB’s opposition to her candidacy: Bernie Sanders’s seat has become synonymous with speaking truth to power, and Rainville’s risk-averse campaign — including her inability to speak out on the War, permanent bases in Iraq, or the ongoing lunacy of US-sanctioned torture — fails what amounts to a simple test of courage.

In the first days of February, we predicted that once Rainville finally made up her mind about a run for Congress, “the uniform will be removed, and something unaccountable will appear — a woman of relatively little experience with public policy, operating uncertainly and tentatively outside the bounds of self-imposed silence.”

Arguably, that prediction has come to pass. But where are the stories stating the obvious?

Where are the profiles of Mark Shepard, pointing out his relative competence and probity? Where are the editorial chin-pullers, arguing that in spite of the military air she cultivates and brings to the campaign, Rainville has thus far been popularly associated with a single character trait — indecisiveness?

Don’t look at us. Because VDB has no earthly idea.

4 Responses to ' Martha Can’t Make Up Her Mind '

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  1. Vermont Daily Briefing » VDB Dead Wrong: Rainville Camp Is Stupid said,

    on April 3rd, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    […] From March 29: […]

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