The Mask Slips

And the Academy Award for Painfully Earnest Passive Aggression goes to…

The topline from this week’s gubernatorial Covid presser was probably the Scott Administration’s apparent determination to push harder for getting Vermonters vaccinated. The governor practically accused the unvaccinated of betraying their fellow Vermonters and promised a new messaging strategy. I doubt it was because I’d just written the exact same thing last Tuesday, but hey, if they’re taking my advice, that’s fine with me.

However, for the political observers in the crowd, the most telling development came near the end of the marathon presser. VTDigger political reporter Lola Duffort asked a pointed question about chief of staff Jason Gibbs slagging an administration critic last week. (This was after two hours of nobody else bringing it up.) In his response, Scott made it clear that Gibbs was absolutely speaking on his behalf — and that Scott shares Gibbs’ condescending attitude toward critics and skeptics.

Yeah, the mask slipped, revealing the mean-spirited flip side of Governor Nice Guy.

Duffort’s question was direct, unafraid, and a little bit overcomplicated, but I quibble. If only every reporter had her guts. She asked about Gibbs going after Dartmouth expert Anne Sosin, who has advocated tougher measures against Covid and shown the receipts from scientific research. Duffort listed all the experts and organizations that have called for a mask mandate, pointed out that Scott had been wrong about the Delta variant, and added that “Vermont is on a pretty scary trajectory right now.”

Scott’s response? “Well, that’s your opinion, Lola, and I’m sure we’ll read about your assessment of this issue tomorrow.”

Yup. Gibbs accused a scientist of being “desperate to prove a false narrative” and Scott accused a professional journalist of opinionating, which is just as heinous a slur. He dismissed Duffort’s work as fundamentally tainted, just as Gibbs did Sosin’s.

Reminds me of the time then-president Richard Nixon asked Dan Rather if he was running for something.

Scott then found a straw man to punch, saying that “most would agree across the country that we’ve been more right than wrong.”

Which is NOT WHAT SHE SAID. Scott has this habit of discrediting his opponents by exaggerating their views.

(He did the same thing with the Legislature today. Putting together a whole string of hypotheticals, he wondered what would happen if the Legislature enacted a mask mandate, overrode his veto, and then the mandate didn’t work. Then, he speculated, the Legislature might move on to closing businesses, limiting public gatherings, enforcing social distancing, and God only knows what other horrors. Mmm-hmm. NOBODY IS SAYING THAT, GOVERNOR.)

Duffort focused on Gibbs’ offense of “lashing out” at Sosin, who’s often been right where Scott was wrong. Scott went through his standard litany of carefully curated “good news” before getting to Duffort’s actual point. And he completely took Gibbs’ side. He said his chief of staff had simply provided evidence that was contrary to Sosin’s, ignoring Gibbs’ actual offense.

“I think we have to, in some respects, provide what we think is accurate information when we see that an expert, your expert, is saying something different that is not true,” he said.

As if that was the heart of Gibbs’ offense. Which it wasn’t.

Finally, Duffort asked if the governor advocated for civility in policy debates. “Absolutely,” he replied. Duffort asked if Gibbs had been civil.

“I didn’t see anything uncivil in what he said,” Scott replied.

Um. Gibbs accused Sosin of making “false assumptions” and being “desperate to prove a false narrative,” and later added that Sosin’s analysis “conceals the full truth.” If that were true, it’d be a professional death sentence for a scientific researcher.

But I guess that’s not uncivil in Scott’s eyes.

Okay, well. The next time somebody tries to draw a distinction between the tough insider Jason Gibbs and the Nice Guy Governor — that Gibbs is doing the dirty work that Scott is constitutionally incapable of — don’t believe it. They’re singing the same rotten tune.

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