Geoffrey Norman is a bitter, fact-challenged man

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.


13 thoughts on “Geoffrey Norman is a bitter, fact-challenged man

  1. Kay Trudell

    As a native born Vermonter, and former Democrat, I believe that many of the problems our state is facing now are due to the failed agenda of the leftists and Progressives in the past 20 years or so, and their attempts to legislate feel good laws in an effort to remake Vermont in the Progressive image (with no thought for the unintended consequences). Liberals only want to be judged on their feelings and intentions, never the actual consequences and results. So while I might have chosen different words than the gentleman of whom you speak, I agree with him in theory because I have seen the results over time. Liberals from surrounding states move here to get away from the urban bustle and problems where they came from, then they end up trying to re-create that same mindset in rural Vermont. Bernie is a perfect example of this — a New York transplant from Brooklyn, raised by Marxist-leaning parents, and infecting Vermont with his socialist ideas. Since many Vermonters seem to like his ideas, I can only conclude that we do not mind all the other baggage such a worldview brings with it. For example, the ShumlinCare fiasco. And the driving of Vermont Yankee out of the state. And the proposed “carbon footprint” taxes. All are Progressive agenda ideas that appall many native Vermonters. No, things ARE NOT all hunky dory and rosy in Vermont. We are being used as an experiment by the left. And they say so openly. So they have to own the problems they cause. But then again, I am speaking as a longtime native resident who has seen radical change over her lifetime. But what the heck do I know? I must be a conservative.

    1. Dave Katz

      Ahh, jeez, Kay, how isn’t this the same tired argument you Birchers have been trotting out since fluoridation back in the late Fifties? “Those urban radical commies are coming to socially engineer our otherwise idyllic lives! Head ’em off at the pass!” “Bernie is a perfect example of this — a New York transplant from Brooklyn, raised by Marxist-leaning parents, and infecting Vermont with his socialist ideas.” Yeah, you said that.

      Why not just come out of your closet and tune up? “We Don’t Like Jews!” There! You feel better? Just like all those Proud Native Vermonters who submarined the proposed Green Mountain Parkway back in 1935 or 36 because it would bring in all those undesirable Catskills vacationers–old-school dogwhistle for Jew Know Who–including, in that chorus, the honeyed tones of Saint George Aiken, I might add. Probably a lot of that same evergreen hate greeted Phil Hoff’s opening up Vermont to ski tourists, I don’t doubt.

      Say, Kay–here’s an idea. Give up your Social Security money! Why, wasn’t that one of those new-fangled experiments you profess to hate? Cooked up by FDR’s Kitchen Cabinet, which actually housed a few of those, y’know, socialist J…but I don’t want to be tedious. .

      1. Walter Carpenter

        “Liberals only want to be judged on their feelings and intentions, never the actual consequences and results.”

        And these feelings for someone else other than the Koch Brothers or other corporate libertarians resulted in two of the best anti-poverty programs that this country has: social security and medicare. If you were true to your values you would, as Dave said, “Give up your Social Security money,” along with your Medicare. I’d love to see you do it.

  2. Steve Beck

    In another life, when I voted Republican! and embraced neo-liberal, free-market ideology! I subscribed to the WSJ. But alas a firewall is in place. Can you provide an open link to his op-ed? I would like to read it. The opening paragraph made me laugh.

    1. Hamilcar!

      If you copy the first ten words or so from the article and paste it into Google with quotes around it, the story will show up as one result. Click the link, and the story’s yours.

  3. Hubey Folsom

    I don’t Kay Trudell can blame Governor Shumlin or other liberals, or even Progressives, for “driving of Vermont Yankee out of the state”. The nuclear plant’s owners were quoted as blaming low-cost natural gas for making VT Yankee uneconomic to own. Too bad about the fracking to get that gas, tho.

  4. Kay Trudell

    Dave, are you saying that Bernie is Jewish? That was never part of the discussion until YOU introduced the topic and tried to play the (similar to the) race card. Are you saying Bernie is a very liberal socialist, and I dislike socialism, so therefore I must hate Bernie because Bernie might also be Jewish? Are you saying that therefore I must also hate all Jews? Are you saying all Jews are socialists? Are you saying all socialists are Jews? Are you saying there are no politically conservative Jews? Are you saying I hate them all as well? What about non political Jews, like many Hasidim? Do I hate them too? What about Israel, the only Jewish nation on earth. Do I hate Israel as well? Hitler was a socialist also — a National Socialist. But I didn’t call Bernie Hitler now, did I? Bernie is a Democratic Socialist and socialism of any stripe is the enemy of the United States Constitution, especially Article I, Section 8 and Article VI and Amendments 9 and 10. Please stop trying to play the race card where it is NOT applicable. It has been done so often it has lost its punch and ability to intimidate the opposition. We were having a political discussion until you tried to make it a religious/ethnic one to intimidate me and make me surrender my conservative comments. Nice try.

    1. Dave Katz

      Oh, please. If it walk like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are better than even it’s a duck. Do I expect you to admit to the antisemitism your textbook buzz-phrases have been demonstrated, time and time again, to signify? No. That’s an argument beyond the scope of this modest space.

      Suffice it to say that anyone who deliberately equates Senator Sanders and Adolph Hitler because ‘Socialism’ only proves that that person has disconnected language from meaning and is merely venting pure emotional vitriol.

      Out of respect for all Internet traditions, here’s Godwin’s Law, which states, “Sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism. Once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

      Yeah, and a lot of social good we all support and approve of today, like unemployment insurance, the eight hour day, the weekend, medical insurance for workers, OSHA, collective bargaining, and much more were the direct result of the fearless, tireless fight of the likes of UAW president Walter Reuthers, Jew. Who was opposed with exactly the same hate-filled rhetoric as you rolled out, back in the 30s. It’s there, in the written record, Kay. Check it out.

    2. Faith Biggs King

      Kay, your rhetoric speaks for itself. “Marxist-leaning parents” (Commies! Un-American!) and “Infected us with his socialist ideas….” In many countries and at many times – for well over 100 years – you’ll find Nativists using the language of plague and contagion to refer to immigrants and newcomers. The language suggests there is a pure, ‘healthy’ native-born body politic being ‘made ill’ by The Other. Non-Yankees, People with browner skin and darker hair, New Yorkers, Jews! Vermonters have a history of trying to keep Jews out by refusing to sell them property. And Kay, I believe Sanders’ parents actually admired FDR. You know, the 32nd president. Horrors!

  5. Steve Beck

    Hamilcar, thank you for the recommendation to copy the first 10 words. I copied more the first, maybe 15 and it did not work. Ten words…did. Now, I know this comment is off topic, but I ended up here based on looking up Godwin’s Law as mentioned in Dave Katz’s rebuke to Kay. I WIKI’ED Godwin’s Law, as I know what it refers to, I just wanted to make sure and of course you can go from there. I think it is amazing. It is a link to Richard Dawkin’s Oxford Ph.D. Thesis:
    So as i said, you learn something new everyday.


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