I have to admit I felt a little twinge of the warm fuzzies when I heard about Gov. Phil Scott’s “Vermont LIghts the Way” initiative. I mean, who could resist this pitch:
“I think it’s time to lift our spirits. Let’s get creative and show the world that Vermonters are here for each other and that even through these dark and difficult times, Vermont Lights the Way. …I hope this effort will spread joy and hope, especially for our kids.”
Yeah, mmm, hot cocoa, puppy hugs, flannel blankies, freshly fallen snow snow, plush teddy bears, holiday music, Mom’s chicken soup.
But of course, I’m a cynical old blogger, so my thoughts quickly turned. “What does this have to do with governance?” I asked myself.
Nothing. It’s good politics, that’s all. And there’s nothing wrong with good politics in its place. But this message is aimed at the comfortable among us — the ones with homes and well-stocked pantries, a bit of disposable income and paid-up utility bills, the ones who’d like to feel as though they’re making a difference without leaving the comfort of home and hearth.
How, I ask you, does this message feel to those who are sick, unemployed, homeless, addicted, hungry? It does nothing for them. In fact, I’d wager that it rings hollow in their ears and leaves a bitter aftertaste in their mouths.
But wait, I’m not done. There’s also the faintly messianic undertone that appeals to our overdeveloped sense of Vermont exceptionalism. “Vermont Lights the Way”? Really? Isn’t that the Lord’s work?
Not to mention the subtle callback to one of the most fatuous political PR campaigns of all time: George H.W. Bush’s “Thousand Points of Light,” which focused on people doing good works — with the implication that Americans are fundamentally goodhearted people and our problems can be overcome with a heapin’ helpin’ of volunteer spirit.
All that said, there’s nothing wrong with a little seasonal pandering. I wouldn’t offer a word of criticism to anyone who strings some extra lights. Might even do it myself.
But at the same time, if you can afford a new round of holiday decor, you could also give to a local food bank, homeless shelter, or some other helping initiative. And I wish that had been part of Scott’s pillow-soft holiday appeal.