In Praise of Shithousery

This, friends and acquaintances, is Jamie Vardy, ace striker for Leicester City FC and world-class shithouse. His specialty is the extravagant goal celebration in front of opposition fans. I do believe he’d rather score on the road than at home, just so he can put on displays like this. A former teammate says that Vardy would ask fellow players how to deliver insults in their language so he’d know how to say “Your sister is a whore” to a Portuguese defender.

Shithousery, broadly defined, is behavior designed to get under your opponent’s skin and hopefully disrupt their play. Kicking, grabbing, taunting, egregious overacting in an attempt to draw a foul, that sort of thing. It’s a quality you hate in opposing players but love when they’re on your side.

Which brings us to Vermont politics, especially Democratic politics, which is woefully short on shithousery. You might think we’re better off that way. To be sure, shithousery can be overdone; there are figures on the national scene who are capable of nothing but. (Ted Cruz, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, etc.) Vardy, on the other hand, is a topnotch player who once carried his squad to an improbable Premier League championship.

We need us a Jamie Vardy. By “we,” I mean Vermont’s Democrats and Progressives. The closest thing we’ve got is Bernie Sanders, but he’s not active on the home front. We need someone in state politics happy to throw a sharp elbow in the opposition’s ribs, even if they have to suffer the tut-tuts of the chattering class.

Phil Scott, for all his “nice guy” reputation, is an exceptional shithouse. He knows how to fire a sucker-punch when the ref isn’t looking. Say, when he accuses his critics of playing politics or slams the media for creating controversy. Or when he tiptoes around veto threats while refusing to engage with lawmakers.

It’s how he keeps the Dems off balance. They’re always trying to guess how far they can go without triggering a veto, which makes them water down their own legislation. Which results in Democrats looking like fools when they try to convince their voters that really, if you vote for us this time, we’ll deliver on the stuff we’ve been promising for years. Scott also keeps a stable of shithouses in his executive office, just as fellow “nice guy” Jim Douglas did when he was governor. (Names? Jason Gibbs, Dustin Degree, Tayt Brooks. All three have Two have been at Scott’s right hand since day one; Degree joined them eleven months into Scott’s first term.)

Notwithstanding arch declarations about gutter politics or performative acts, shithousery is a time-honored tactic with a legitimate role in the public sphere. And just because you want to rise above doesn’t mean the other side will. When you forswear the dark arts, you’re walking unarmed into a knife fight. You see it every time the governor dances rhetorical circles around the Legislature.

I tell you, legislative Dems need a shithouse, someone willing to draw the ire of Republicans. And the party needs a shithouse to run against the governor. If you can’t beat him, put up a candidate willing to throw down, put some dents in his Teflon, soften him up for the next go-round. Give your voters reason to believe that you’re fighting for them.

I have no confidence whatsoever that they’ve got it in them. For many Democrats, the very idea is anathema. They prefer to think of themselves as operating on a higher plane. Shithousery would be an exercise in self-debasement. And if it was successful, even worse.

I hate to break it to these residents of the astral plane, but politics is eye-pokes and cheap shots and insults just as much as it is speeches and platforms and position papers.

Just ask Phil Scott. If you get a few beers in him first.

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