Learn To Play Dog Whistle the Phil Scott Way!

Now that Phil Scott is officially a candidate for governor, he’s stepping up his attacks on Democratic policies. But he’s doing it in an oblique way: he doesn’t name names, he isn’t abusive; he isn’t angry, he’s simply “concerned.”

But the intent is obvious. Take, for example, a one-paragraph press release issued by The Office of Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott “in response to a Nov. 30 press event held by the Vermont Public Interest Group (VPIRG) showing support for a carbon tax.”

“Vermont is already setting a national example for green building practices, energy conservation, renewable energy and environmental stewardship. I believe we need to balance our environmental leadership with the economic priorities we have for Vermont. Since the carbon tax has been proposed, I’ve heard from many Vermonters who strongly oppose higher cost gasoline and home heating fuels, and understand how this proposal would increase the cost of living across the board. It is clear to me that the vast majority of Vermonters want the Legislature to spend its time looking for ways to grow the economy and save working Vermonters money. Discussion of a new tax that could add as much as 88-cents to a gallon of gasoline is not a way to grow the economy or save money – therefore I oppose this tax.”

That paragraph, like many of his positions, starts with a smiley face but ends with a harsh takedown. It all adds up to “We’ve done enough on the environment. Don’t expect anything more.”

This velvet glove/iron fist approach ripples throughout the speech he delivered (not very well) at his campaign launch. He started with a humblebrag about his ability to “bring people together, achieve consensus and bridge growing partisan divides.”

And then he proceeded to hammer the Democrats over and over again.

Indirectly, of course; a “nice guy” doesn’t rip you to your face. But he talks about unnamed “elected officials” who want to “raise more taxes and spend more money,” a fundamentally dysfunctional government (run by whom?), a need to “rebuild Vermont’s economic foundation (because somebody has been neglecting it), a government that’s unpredictable, undisciplined, and overly partisan, and a health care reform effort that’s doomed to failure and needs to be abandoned. That’s all standard Republican attack stuff.

Put it all together, you have a nice guy who is, in fact, pretty darn conservative. He promises to reject any bill that would increase costs or uncertainty, and he wants to put a straitjacket on the budget. Those are rather radical notions, not to mention unworkable and short-sighted.

Take, for example, that nasty evil carbon tax. It would raise costs for some in the short term. However:

— There would be counterbalancing tax cuts to minimize the effect on taxpayers,

— In our economy, no cost is assigned to carbon pollution, when in fact there are very real and tangible costs borne by all of us and the planet,

— The longer-term costs of climate change will be immensely greater than the shorter-term impact of a carbon tax. (Don’t take my word for it; ask the Pentagon or major insurance carriers.)

— We’re already feeling the impact. Directly, financially.

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Phil Scott fails to see the forest beyond the single tree in front of him. That’s not the kind of visionary leader who can reimagine government and rebuild the economy.

This is of a piece with his laughably vague policy ideas. His press release on the budget actually includes that old chestnut, “streamline state government by finding efficiencies.”

What efficiencies, pray tell? Can he name a single one?

Phil Scott is a small business owner with, presumably, a sharp eye for the bottom line. He’s been in state government for the past 15 years, as a state senator and lieutenant governor. By now, he ought to know the budget as well as anyone. And yet he falls back on the old “finding efficiencies” bromide without offering a single tangible idea, a single substantial cut he would make.

Governors have been talking about “finding efficiencies” since the days of Dick Snelling, at least. I’m sure there are efficiencies to be found; but state government is a big, complicated thing. It doesn’t lend itself to simple, sound-bite answers*.

*At Scott’s campaign launch, Democrats were slammed for offering nothing but sound bites. So far, the Scott campaign is nothing but vague bromides and tired, unworkable “solutions.”

The Phil Scott campaign, so far, is based on two propositions: He’s a nice guy and a leader who can take Vermont in a better direction. Neither idea stands up under scrutiny. Well, he is genuinely a nice guy — but his rhetoric is boilerplate Republican with a thin veneer of politesse. As for leadership, well, he remains desperately short of fresh ideas or insight.

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