Way, way back in January 2015, I proposed an addition to then-governor Peter Shumlin’s executive team: the post of Shitkicker-In-Chief. “The duties would include pointing out the flaws in administration reasoning, deflating egos when necessary, and the occasional loud guffaw,” I wrote.
Despite his brush with electoral disgrace in the 2014 election, Shummy quickly reverted to the kinds of bad habits that helped derail his once-promising administration: “One of his worst is his almost-complete inability to admit that he was wrong about something — even if it’s something trivial. It makes him appear small-minded, overly defensive, duplicitous, and condescending.”
Gee, that sounds a hell of a lot like his successor, doesn’t it? Phil Scott, the former Nice Guy, is now prone to dismiss any questioning of his Covid policy, make demeaning remarks about those who disagree with him, and make transparently false statements. (His latest: his contention that he hasn’t changed his position on emergency housing when, in fact, he’s shifted considerably from his former demand that the program be ended by a date certain.)
So, it’s time for Scott to hire a shitkicker. He needs someone willing to tell him inconvenient truths such as “You’re wrong” or “That’s stupid” or “Bullshit, Mr. Governor.”
The job would come with hefty requirements: Political savvy and experience, and absolute fearlessness. A good S-I-C fears not for their tenure and doesn’t give a good goddamn if they offend the boss. They wouldn’t necessarily have a policy axe to grind; it’s got to be all about keeping the governor from becoming arrogant and disconnected. In the vernacular, believing that his shit don’t stink.
Phil Scott is clearly getting to that point, if he hasn’t already arrived. A good S-I-C would tell him to start acknowledging the pain and loss of Covid victims and their loved ones. A good S-I-C would push him out of the Pavilion Building for a face-to-face with the homeless advocates who continue their public protest for a cmoprehensive emergency housing program.
Mind you, he wouldn’t have to change his policy. He’d simply have to make himself available and a tiny bit vulnerable. But surely the man who speeds around the tight corners of Thunder Road shouldn’t fear a few harsh words from Brenda Siegel or a bit of despair from a grieving spouse. He needs to show that he cares. That quality has been absent lately.
Every officeholder eventually falls victim to the syndrome. It’s why senior officeholders (such as my list of state senators we could do without) keep running for re-election even when they become best-known for erratic behavior or falling asleep on the job. After almost five years on the job and two walkover re-election victories, Scott is losing the common touch that led to his success.
He needs a shitkicker. It’ll never happen, more’s the pity. Any politician who needs a shitkicher would never, ever, ever put up with one. Maybe it should be a constitutional office.