Never Miss a Chance to Hit Your Talking Points, No Matter How Awkward the Context

Gov. Phil Scott used the occasion of his weekly Covid briefing — well, customarily weekly; he’s missed two of the last three weeks — to do a little bragging. The Omicron numbers are starting to trend downward and Scott was quick to take credit, although he also warned it was too soon for a victory lap.

That’s all fine. Normal for a politician. But on a couple of occasions, the governor took it uncomfortably close to the realm of tastelessness.

First, a reporter asked him to reflect on Vermont’s death toll passing the 500 milestone. He said the right words, most of them, although in an oddly dispassionate tone; but he couldn’t resist referring — not once, but twice — to the state’s relatively low death toll. In other words, he took a solemn moment as a pretext for delivering a political talking point. And later on, he talked of keeping the death rate on the low side in spite of Vermont’s aging population. Yeah, I know, us Olds are so inconvenient.

Details and a few other notes… after the jump.

Here is the governor’s entire rambling answer to the question about exceeding 500 deaths.

Every death is tragic, in particular with Covid. It’s something years ago, three years ago, two years ago, we didn’t expect. While we still, you know, one of leaders in nation in terms of deaths per capita, it still means something that it’s a family member, a friend, a colleague who has, uh, who has passed away due to the virus. So it, uh, from my standpoint, it continues to be a point what we have to continue to reflect on, and it’s not just a number, but it’s a reason to do the very best we can to get people vaccinated, get people boosted, and try to put this behind us so that we don’t have any additional deaths in the future. But we can, again, we can be proud of the fact that we’ve done, we’re one of the best states in the nation in terms of preventing death, but we still, tragically, had too many deaths as a result.

Sheesh. Besides the inarticulateness of it all (“it continues to be a point what we have to continue to reflect on”?), that’s an awfully quick turn from “tragic” to excuse-making and humblebragging and back again.

It should have been a softball question. It was a softball question. The reporter set him up to show a bit of human compassion. He could have told a story or two about meeting with people who have suffered loss. Maybe someone in his own circle has died or been severely ill from Covid. He could have said he wishes he could have done more to keep Vermonters alive. He could have said that even if he absolutely believes he’s done everything right. He could have been appropriately solemn, giving the space fully to an expression of grief and leaving the bragging to other parts of the presser. The presser was full of opportunities to boast.

A few minutes later, Scott’s humblebragging took another turn. He referred to Vermont as “one of the oldest states in the nation. And achieving what we’ve been able to achieve with hospitalizations and deaths, um, is remarkable and is a testament to what Vermonters are doing because it has affected the elderly more than anyone else both in terms of deaths and in terms of hospitalizations. So we have a lot to be proud of because, again, adding that level of difficulty due to our age.”

Nice of him to briefly include Vermonters, but what he’s really talking about is his administration’s success with Covid despite bearing the burden of an elderly, feeble population. It’s an extra “level of difficulty,” as if this was a game of Super Mario. As one of the vast, unhealthy horde of elder Vermonters, I don’t appreciate the implication that I don’t count for as much as younger people or that I’m an impediment to getting through the pandemic.

A few other notes from this week’s presser.

Scott delivered a vague hint of a warning on the Legislature’s proposal to spend part of the federal Covid relief windfall on shoring up public sector pensions. “The devil’s in the details, and I don’t have any details,” he said. That’s often a precursor to an eventual veto — usually after sitting back and letting the Legislature put a bill on his desk rather than working with lawmakers to avoid confrontation.

“I don’t mind paying down debt or making investments,” he added, “but want to make sure we get structural changes.” We’re having to interpret the willfully opaque Oracle of the Fifth Floor here, but that would seem to indicate he expects substantial pension reforms, i.e. sticking it to teachers and state employees. This is a dark cloud on the horizon of the Legislature’s so-far relatively painless process of putting together a pension plan that satisfies all comers.

Education Schmendrick Dan French took the lectern to deliver an extensive apologia for his school Covid policies. I don’t believe he reads this blog; he has people to do that for him. But he’s clearly heard the catcalls from many directions, so he felt the need to explain his policy. In the process, he threw some shade on school officials who might have misapplied his wise guidance. And he expressed confidence “that we’ll get through this just as we have before.”

By which you mean… badly?

Finally, a bit of inconsistency on what it means to be fully vaccinated. Tallest Health Commissioner in the Nation (attribution needed) Dr. Mark Levine was asked if getting a booster shot should be included in the definition of “fully vaccinated.” He allowed as to how the phrase has become “archaic.” He prefers “fully protected and up to date,” which includes booster shots.

However, his department’s Covid vaccine dashboard still refers to people who have had the initial vaccine course (one or two shots, depending) as “completed.” This isn’t just semantics; there’s a big difference in the numbers. 80% of Vermonters are “completed,” but only 63% have gotten a booster. If the definition has shifted, shouldn’t the dashboard get a makeover? Should we dispense with any mention of “completed” in favor of “fully protected”?

Of course, that would be a lower percentage and that could reflect badly on the administration. The governor is so intent on moving forward, not backward, that I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate a downward recalibration of the vaccine numbers. I think you can expect the discrepancy to remain, and you can expect the administration to use the higher percentage as a talking point. Regardless of accuracy.


1 thought on “Never Miss a Chance to Hit Your Talking Points, No Matter How Awkward the Context

  1. Aaron

    If Philip was smart, he would know that commenting on the pension fund problems isn’t a smart move when his family construction company was the prime contractor for reconstructing the park & ride in Berlin owned by VTrans.


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