Falafel Waffle: Compassion without substance

Unfortunately for Phil Scott, Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate in Rutland happened a mere few hours after federal officials had approved the settlement of Syrian refugees in that city.

I say “unfortunately” because that brought the refugee question front and center, and Scott did nothing to distinguish himself as a leader. In fact, he did quite the opposite: he took both sides on the question. In the process, he gave substantial deference to the opponents of the plan while undercutting its advocates. Many a dog whistle was blown.

His non-answer has been widely reported in the media, but I went back to the video and transcribed the whole thing. It’s worse than I thought.

The original question, from moderator Mark Johnson, asked the candidates if they supported the plan to settle up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Rutland. Here is Scott’s initial response.

Certainly, all of us, I think, have a great amount of compassion for those who are torn from their countries in many different ways, war-torn countries, and have a great amount of compassion for them.

Word salad aside, one thing we know for sure: we all “have a great amount of compassion.” Scott then explained that when he was first asked about the general idea of settling Syrian refugees in America, last fall, he initially called for a “pause” and then, after briefings with state and federal officials, he changed his position.,..

I was convinced that this was a process that would take about a year and a half, and it was something that I came to the conclusion that was the right thing to do. I mean, we have to do what’s right. And again, we have a great amount of respect and a compassion for those who are suffering, especially our children.

But I think that public safety has to come first. And I think we all have a responsibility to make sure that we have a fully transparent process.

I think the process here in Rutland was flawed. I believe that we should have, uh, they should have here done it in a much different way, and I have no doubt that that would have happened today, I think, reflecting on that.

More word salad: “Our children”? And what “would have happened today”? But the bigger issue is, he just shifted from the overall issue of Syrian refugees in America to the specitic Rutland plan without noting the difference. He will continue to display this remarkable unclarity. Plus, he’s about to start kissing the dark side’s rear end.

So I think it’s, it’s, the Congressional delegation, the governor, the State Department, the city officials, have an obligation to Rutland folks about this and what it means to them, and explain to them what the process is.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Scott is casting blame on a whole bunch of Democratic officials plus “the city officials,” primarily former Republican Mayor Chris Louras.

Be transparent about it. Because we all have to, to live with this, we all want to make sure this is safe, and that we, we welcome them in if we’re going to, welcome them in, and make sure that they’re part of the community.

So in, in reaction, I think 100 sounds like a lot, but I think that the Mayor has determined that that’s the number that should be coming.

Distancing himself as far as he can from the Rutland plan. He’s putting the onus entirely on Mayor Louras, and failing to offer anything more than lip service to the plan. He is also ignoring the fact that, whatever the flaws in Louras’ approach early on, the process has been extremely transparent for the last several months. Plenty of information has been provided. There have been numerous opportunities for people to ask their questions.

Problem is, there are people in Rutland who won’t accept any answers or information that support refugee resettlement. The record clearly shows that many of them are motivated by racist, anti-Muslim, and nativist impulses.

Scott’s lengthy meander prompted Johnson to essentially repeat his original question: “Do you support the program or not support the program?” His answer…

As I said, I was convinced that, uh, that it’s a safe process, and we have an obligation to do what we can. So yes, the bottom line is yes, but again, there’s an obligation by leadership to provide that same sense of security, that same sense of certainty, to those in Rutland.

In that one sentence, Scott restates his support for the general concept of settling refugees in America. After that, he expresses support for the Rutland plan — but attaches conditions.

Last fall, he changed his position on the broader question after doing a bit of research. By all appearances, he hasn’t bothered to do any research on the Rutland issue. Indeed, he seems unclear on the difference.

And the condition that’s impossible to meet is his demand for a “sense of security” for “those in Rutland.” Which means what, exactly? Does every Rutlander need to feel secure and certain? That’ll never happen, because there are quite a few dead-enders, people who shriek about Sharia law and the death of Rutland and are already spotting imaginary Syrians around town.

Speaking of those people, the subject then turned to Rutland First, the group that has complained the loudest and sponsored “informational forums” featuring rabidly anti-Muslim speakers. Johnson asked Scott is Rutland First’s concerns are legitimate. The first sentence is a mind-blower.

Well, whether they are legitimate or not, they are questions that should be answered.

“Whether they are legitimate or not”????? Did Phil Scott just give free rein to the dead-enders? Did he just demand that officials convince every single Rutland Firster that the Syrians pose no threat?

I think he did.

To sum up, Scott expressed only conditional support for the Rutland plan. He assigned any past or future blame to Democratic officials and the independent Mayor. He spoke not a word against the extreme rhetoric of the Rutland Firsters. To the contrary, he gave tacit support to their position.

I realize that Phil Scott brands himself as a Leader Who Listens and a consensus builder. But there comes a time when you stop listening and start leading. You have to stop cosseting the fears of unreasonable people. If you aren’t sufficiently informed about an issue, you have an obligation to become informed. Scott did this last fall on the broader issue of Syrian refugees; he has chosen not to do so with regard to the Rutland plan.

To me, his little Rutland dance is closer to cowardice than leadership.

By contrast, Sue Minter gave a hearty endorsement to the Rutland plan. She indicated she had visited Rutland and educated herself on the issue. She acknowledged that there was work to be done, adjustments to be made, and stated the need for “conversation and communication.” But she threw her support firmly behind the principle of compassion to which Scott’s commitment seems largely verbal.


8 thoughts on “Falafel Waffle: Compassion without substance

  1. Robert Haskins

    Here’s what you don’t get John, what Phil said shows compassion for the people of Rutland who have endured an authoritarian Mayor getting his way. Contrary to your thinking, many of us who support refugee resettlement are apeshit our Mayor ran roughshod on the community with his secretive process. Phil Scott acknowledged the flawed rollout and for that many are thankful. In hindsight, the baton handoff from Obama to Leahy to Shumlin to Louras was never in doubt no matter how loud those dissenters were. This was a done deal as soon as Louras agreed to it after getting the okay from his wife.

    No way to run a city, but we’ll welcome the Syrians with open hearts and minds. They might not stay long after they get a dose of Vermont in January.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I don’t mind that he shows understanding for the legitimate concerns of some Rutlanders, but he completely gave a pass to the nativists and fearmongers in your midst. There are a lot of those, and they’ve been very loud throughout the process.

    2. ApacheTrout

      Please, Mr. Haskins. This concern for process is a mask to normalize bigotry. Based on the numerous comments on Rutland First’s facebook page and in the comment section of VT Digger, these “concerned” citizens are quite fine with authoritative regimes that give little concern for due process for citizens, as long as the right group of people are in power (true north Patriots, others need not apply) and the people with the right skin (brown shade and darker) and faith (anything other than Christian) are under scrutiny.

  2. Sen. Joe Benning

    Re: “Maybe I’m reading too much into this, …” Well, yeah, I think you are. Please compare:

    Phil Scott: “Be transparent about it. Because we all have to, to live with this, we all want to make sure this is safe, and that we, we welcome them in if we’re going to, welcome them in, and make sure that they’re part of the community.”


    Sue Minter: “gave a hearty endorsement … [but] acknowledged that there was work to be done, adjustments to be made, and stated the need for ‘conversation and communication.’”

    It seems to me they are both agreeing the process was flawed and have also agreed on the same desired result. You’ve just used 20 paragraphs to imply otherwise. I definitely think you were reading (and writing) WAY too much into this.


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