Well, our very own Wall Street panjandrum has formally launched his gubernatorial bid with a bold, perhaps unprecedented, first move:
He okayed a campaign logo without a speck of green in it.
Instead, he bravely opted for a sky-blue field, backing what appears to be the label from a long-lost brewery: Lisman Lager, the beer that claims to be different from all the others but tastes oddly familiar.
That’s the bold move. The rest of his launch was a pastiche of mixed messages and same-old same-old.
Let’s start with his Jeb! problem. As a presidential candidate, Jeb Bush had to decide how to address the legacy of George W. Bush. And he hasn’t. He’s tried to present himself as his own man, but that effort is undercut every time he rushes to W’s defense. He winds up talking much more than he should about 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lisman’s “George W. Bush” is his Wall Street career.
He wants to depict himself as a born-and-bred Vermonter in touch with Vermont values, and politically he has to distance himself from a widely-reviled institution, but he just can’t stop talking about the place he spent most of his adult life. Paul Heintz:
“Neither I nor the businesses that I ran had anything to do with any of the financial problems you read about in the press,” he said.
That’s just very tough to swallow. The businesses that he ran didn’t implode, but the company he served as a top executive certainly did. It’s like an officer on the Titanic admitting he was on the bridge, but insisting it wasn’t his job to look out for icebergs.
Maybe Lisman was faultless in his conduct. But he failed to see signs of trouble. He fails to recognize the scope of the disaster and its human cost. (That blithe reference to “the financial problems you read about in the press,” good God. Talk about tone-deaf. He’s describing one of the worst financial collapses of our time! “Financial problems,” indeed.)
He has to figure out how to talk about this, and it’s dismaying that he hasn’t, considering how long he’s been thinking about a candidacy.
Speaking of dismaying, his policy positions are an odd mix of grievance and generality. He doesn’t like Act 46, Vermont Health Connect, property taxes, wind or solar power, the state’s renewable energy goal, the budget, and the Shumlin administration in toto. But ask him what he wants to do instead, and he doesn’t have a lot to offer. For instance, cutting the budget:
Asked whether he could name a single budget cut he would recommend to meet his growth target, he said, “Uh, no.”
Usually, I’d cut some slack for a newbie candidate. But Lisman has been deep-diving on Vermont issues for more than five years. He founded Campaign for Vermont, which has been exploring issues and devising solutions for four years. Surely he’s developed some solid plans of his own by now. At the very least, you’d think he could name a sample budget cut or two.
To judge by his hot-button remarks, Lisman is apparently aiming to cobble together a Coalition of the Aggrieved. He attempted the neat rhetorical trick of painting everybody else as an insider. VTDigger:
Lisman broadly criticized the field of challengers, many of whom have worked in or beside the current administration, saying “the Shumlin administration, and those who aided them, and those who have stood by in silence, are the ones who are at fault for this mess.”
Cute. By that definition, Matt Dunne is an insider because he “stood by”. Phil Scott is an insider because he has worked “beside the current administration”. Bruce Lisman, meanwhile, refused to stand by in silence: he bravely wrote a series of opinion pices and blogposts.
Now, that’s leadership.
One more thing. His daughter Maggie spoke of Lisman’s wife dying of cancer while the kids were young, and of his struggles as a working parent. Good for him. Really, I mean it.
But if he’s going to make political hay out of his personal setbacks, then I have a couple of questions.
— I don’t know when in his career this happened, but did he have the resources to hire a nanny? Were there servants?
— Has Lisman remarried? If so, let’s get a chance to meet the lucky woman (or man, to be inclusive). Who is she? What’s she do? How old is she? How long have they been married?
Bruce Lisman has an uphill battle against the very popular Phil Scott. He’ll need to have his shit together. And at this point, he simply doesn’t.