January 29th, 2007

Question: Should Vermont Help Steal What Remains of New Hampshire’s Presidential Primary Glory? Correctamundo!

by Philip Baruth

I spent a fairly large chunk of the 1970’s watching an insipid half-hour program called Happy Days. This program was dominated by a short, homely little man with a ducktail named Arthur Fonzerelli, a.k.a. the Fonz.

Fonzie and the gang

The beauty of the character, though, was that no one noticed he was short and homely. In fact, everyone acted as though Fonzie was the last word in cool, and mystically sexy.

When Fonzie snapped his fingers, women in poodle skirts sprinted to his table.

Henry’s Winkler’s over-the-top Italian hood became a national sensation, filled some deep-seated cultural need, so much so that no one ever wanted Henry Winkler to act in any other role, ever again.

NH Is Fonzie/VT Is Richie Cunningham

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can never watch the build-up to the New Hampshire primary without thinking of Arthur Fonzerelli and Happy Days.

The winner in New Hampshire usually gets a boost half-way to the White House, and the voters there know this, believe me. Candidates swoop in and fist-fight each other over the privilege of shoveling wet New Hampshire snow from clogged New Hampshire driveways.

Every four years, every man, woman, and child in the Granite State becomes Arthur Fonzerelli incarnate, and the country tunes in for the same reason they watched Happy Days: it’s fun to see average people given the power to run absolutely amok.

It’s fun, that is, for everybody except the other geek, the one always standing directly to the left of the Fonz. Richie Cunningham always looked on with a pressed shirt and a Howdy-Doody smile but there was a real sliver of envy lodged in his heart.

Just a stone’s throw across the Connecticut River from us, any moment can become a defining moment, one that speaks volumes about America.

But here in Vermont, a moment is just sixty more seconds in which nobody cares what we have to say.

We tell ourselves it could be worse: it could be Texas parading through the klieg lights every four years.

But it eats at us, this surreal state of affairs in which our next-door-neighbor, so like us, so seemingly insignificant in the grand electoral scheme of things, can do no wrong, in which everything New Hampshire does is somehow correctamundo.

Of course, Happy Days eventually died a necessary death, and a number of states have now leapfrogged their primaries to within striking distance of New Hampshire. Not just one but two caucuses now precede its first in the nation primary, Iowa and Nevada.

The calendar has changed forever.

The only question left, at least for you and me, is this: Are we just going to sit back and let New Hampshire be openly stripped of all its former glory — or are we going to jump in and cart some off for ourselves?

The New Vermont Primary:
Everybody Free January 23rd, 2008?

The folks who worked out the new front-loaded primary calendar had a lot of lines in the sand to address, to put it mildly.

New Hampshire vowed to advance its primary date to make sure it stayed at least a week ahead of any other state, no matter how much advancing that took. Iowa vowed the same as regards its first-in-the-nation caucus status.

But California, and other Western states, cried foul. New Hampshire and Iowa are overwhelmingly white and rural in their outlook, they argued, hardly representative of America as a whole.

The solution? A dangerously front-loaded calendar that only technically meets everyone’s demands.

As of today, Iowa holds its caucus the 14th of January; Nevada, a strongly Hispanic state, caucuses five days later. Then, on January 22nd, New Hampshire holds its inarguably devalued first-in-the-nation primary, followed closely by South Carolina, which holds its primary exactly one week later.

Then on February 5th, American voters get more or less pig-piled: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Utah — and quite probably Florida, California, New Jersey and Michigan — will all go to the polls, effectively ending the primary season.

Let’s save for another day the obvious implications of this front-loaded nightmare, and focus on what it means for Vermont: we still don’t count for jack-shit.

And frankly, it’s because we’re too nice, too much the Richie Cunningham of electoral politics. So let’s bring it, people: let’s move our primary to January 23rd, the day after New Hampshire’s primary.

In fact, let’s open the polls at a few minutes after midnight, just to ramp up the tension.

That way, the national press corps and the gaggle of candidates will have no choice but to treat New Hampshire and Vermont as a de facto single primary.

McCain as lickspittleReporters will ping back and forth across the state line.

John McCain and Bill Richardson will have to come here and shovel our driveways and bag our groceries and beg us for our votes too.

We wouldn’t be first in the nation, but we sure as heck wouldn’t be last.

Not anymore.

Oh, sure, New Hampshire would threaten to advance their primary by a week. And granted, that threat’s been fairly effective in the past. But now it’d be us they’d be trying to stare down, their next-door neighbors, not South Carolina or California.

And maybe it’s just me, but I’m betting we’d win that little staring contest. It’s hard to get too indignant and high and mighty with folks who share your border, and know your secrets.

Yes, eventually New Hampshire would grudgingly go along.

And not a moment too soon: I’ve got a basement that needs finishing, and Hillary Clinton’s just the woman to do it, too.

hillary, having it both ways

[This piece ran first in the Vermont Guardian.]