Vermont’s two major parties (sorry, Progs, I don’t buy the legal definition) have chosen new chairs. The Democrats won the big prize with Anne Lezak, an organizer and fundraiser by trade and a successful party builder. (Upcoming post will feature a deeper dive on Lezak.)
The Republicans got… this guy. Paul Dame, financial planner and former one-term state lawmaker. Dame’s party building strategy is two-pronged: Posting commentary videos on YouTube with all the professionalism on display in the above screenshot, and blowing all the dog whistles as hard as he can.
Yeah, while Lezak is actually doing her job, Dame is out here trying to “win the news cycle” with bad videos and cutely-worded statements. Which, considering how many Vermonters actually pay attention to this stuff, is slightly more effective than howling into the void. (He’s posted four videos on YouTube; they’ve averaged 82 views apiece as of this writing. Wow.)
Dame’s first big dog whistle was the first event under his chairship: the “Let’s Go, Brandon” rally, supposedly a nod to his hometown but actually a thinly-veiled callout to the most childish instincts of conservative Republicanism. It worked, insofar as it got him a spot on the Howie Carr Show and some coverage in the Pavlovian political press.
Now he’s blowing the dog whistle for the conspiratorial Flavor of the Month, critical race theory.
In a lengthy and well-reported VTDigger piece on the CRT issue in Vermont, Dame coyly solicits the anger of the anti-CRTers while protesting that he is absolutely not doing the thing he’s doing.
Paul Dame, its newly elected chair, said he’s met parents who were politically checked out until the critical race theory debate came to town.
“One of the things I heard from them was, ‘I just assumed that everything in school today was the same way it was when I was in school,’” he said.
Dame said he isn’t necessarily interested in measures to ban critical race theory or related topics. But he does think energy in that space could be channeled into expanding access to school vouchers.
Let’s pass by the idea of parents being so clueless about their kids that they think the 1980s are still in effect, and go right to the heart of the matter: Dame wants to enlist the passion of the conspiratorialists but divert their energy into his own pet project, smothering the public schools in the name of “choice.” All the while giving himself what he thinks is clever camouflage. He’s not waving the bloody flag, not at all. He’s just pointing to a bloody flag that happens to be in his hand and his hand happens to be waving.
Who does he think he’s fooling?
This kind of wiseass bullshitting gets nowhere in Vermont politics. We have our faults and blind spots, but we can spot a phony a mile away. Just ask Jack McMullen or Rich Tarrant or Bruce Lisman.
So far in his three-week-young tenure, Dame has managed to grab more than his share of media attention by posting terrible videos and making himself available for quotation. Lezak? Crickets.
Thing is, the party chair’s job is not to be the face of the party. It’s the dirty, mucky, thankless business of organizing, building a war chest, recruiting candidates and mollifying all the inflated egos in the party hierarchy. That’s what Lezak is up to.
Dame can blow all the dog whistles and post all the unwatchable YouTube vids. It won’t make a bit of difference in the real task at hand: Making his party a lively, relevant force in Vermont politics. The first priority ought to be building a bridge to Gov. Phil Scott, the party’s only successful state-level politician. Dame isn’t doing himself any favors there.