See if you recognize this place.
It’s drug-infested and scandal-plagued; its only growth sector is “methadone clinics.” Government is bloated and ineffective; politicians offer tired bromides or worse. Its politics march to an “angry populist beat” but the electorate is “too old, too tired, and too disillusioned” to turn their anger into action. “Soaring” taxes bludgeon inhabitants into sullen beggary, stripped of the will to resist. Many believe that the place’s “moment has passed.” For-sale signs litter the neighborhoods, as multitudes seek desperately to escape.
In case you don’t recognize this hopeless wasteland or the aimlessly trudging zombie-eyed inhabitants wandering the land, yes, it’s Vermont, and those zombies are you and me.
At least it’s the Vermont that haunts the fever dreams of Geoffrey Norman, best known in Internet circles as the former operator of the late, great free-market blog, Vermont Tiger.
Well, Norman is still around, and is respected enough in conservative circles that he managed to sell an essay to the Wall Street Journal. It’s gloriously entitled “In Declining Vermont, the Mood Is More Resigned Than Angry.”
And if you want to know why some see Vermont as a bad place to relocate or do business, maybe it’s because the readers of the Wall Street Journal are being fed this kind of crapola.
I mean, thanks, Geoffrey, for doing your utmost to defame your home state.
Let’s take a closer look at his indictment, shall we?
It starts with his casual dismissal of the Shumlin administration as having “gone badly — embarrassingly so.” Perhaps this was the secret plan all along; his mismanagement has drowned the people in a miasma of helplessness, so they are incapable of rising up to defenestrate their tormentor.
As proof, Norman cites his drive through a neighborhood where “‘for sale’ signs featuring the name of a real-estate agent than political signs for a gubernatorial candidate.”
You know, when I make a sentence longer than it needs to be, I try to fill it with humor, wordplay, and unexpected turns of phrase instead of shamelessly padding.
I don’t know where Norman was driving, but it sure as hell isn’t anywhere near my stomping grounds in central Vermont. In the days leading up to the primary lawn signs were everywhere, and the vast majority said “Scott” or “Zuckerman” or “Dunne” or “Minter” or “Shap”, not Tim Heney. And, as primary day showed, the predictions of disengagement were substantially off the mark. In fact, we set a record for number of votes in a primary.
Elsewhere, Norman notes that Shumlin “devoted his entire 2014 State of the State address” to the opioid epidemic, and then complains that the situation “continues. There is no sense that the crisis has passed, or even eased.”
Gee, Governor. How dare you fail to wipe out a systemic, deeply-rooted social problem in less than two years? What kind of “leader” are you?
Then there’s this. Shockingly for a conservative — aren’t these guys supposed to be students of history? — Norman has a distant relationship with the facts about Gov. Shumlin’s signature failure, the abandonment of single-payer health care. Here is Norman’s account.
A lot of money passed under the bridge before Gov. Shumlin finally gave up, saying that the economic realities were undeniable: The thing couldn’t be done.
The political hit he took was near fatal. When the governor ran for a third two-year term in 2014 he could not manage a majority of the vote. Under Vermont’s Constitution, that throws the election to the state House. Gov. Shumlin won there easily, 110 votes to 69, but it was a humiliating exercise. He announced not much later that he would bow out in 2016.
And now, the facts. The first event in this series was not Shumlin’s abandonment of single payer; it was the very close election of 2014.
In November 2014, he got 46.36 percent of the vote to Scott Milne’s 46.1. It wasn’t until about six weeks later, in mid-December, that “Shumlin finally gave up” on single payer.
It wasn’t that decision that nearly sunk his re-election bid, coming as it did after the election; it was a succession of troubles, prominently including health care reform but also a general sense that he had over-promised and under-delivered and couldn’t be trusted.
A few weeks after that, the Legislature officially named Shumlin the winner, in line with political tradition that the top vote-getter should win the race.
And it wasn’t “not much later” that Shumlin announced he would not seek a fourth term; it was about six months later.
These aren’t earthshaking errors, but they do reveal a highly casual relationship with the truth, not to mention remarkable laziness on the part of the writer and the fact-checkers at the Journal.
But the real whoppers in Norman’s essay are the unfounded assertions, like the mythical neighborhoods full of “for sale” signs and bereft of political activity. And this:
The general feeling this election year is that, after the failures of Gov. Shumlin and the Democrats, it is the Republicans’ turn to hold the governorship.
“The general feeling” among whom, exactly? Geoffrey Norman and his pals at the country club?
In the real world, “the general feeling” doesn’t include the vast majority of Democrats, Progressives, and independent liberals. They all may not be citizens of Mr. Norman’s Vermont Of The Imagination, but they are still eligible to vote.
Some of them are likely to support Phil Scott. But not because they think it’s the Republicans’ turn, but because they find Scott uniquely appealing and believe he would do the best job.
Eh, no matter. Norman doesn’t like Phil Scott, or Bruce Lisman for that matter. (His essay was published four days before the primary.) Too wishy-washy for his taste.
And in the end, I suppose that’s why Norman is living in his own private Vermont. Because the real-life one consistently fails to meet his very conservative standards.
The sad thing is, Norman’s Vermont is such a bleak, blasted place. There is none of the vibrancy or struggle or hard work or beauty or creativity that make Vermont so special. For the sake of Vermont’s image across the country, I wish he’d just drown his sorrows in Scotch instead of spreading his dark vision far beyond our borders.
Or just move to Florida already. We can get by.