Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Bruce Lisman has some stuff to sort out

Well, our very own Wall Street panjandrum has formally launched his gubernatorial bid with a bold, perhaps unprecedented, first move:

He okayed a campaign logo without a speck of green in it.

Instead, he bravely opted for a sky-blue field, backing what appears to be the label from a long-lost brewery: Lisman Lager, the beer that claims to be different from all the others but tastes oddly familiar.

That’s the bold move. The rest of his launch was a pastiche of mixed messages and same-old same-old.

Let’s start with his Jeb! problem. As a presidential candidate, Jeb Bush had to decide how to address the legacy of George W. Bush. And he hasn’t. He’s tried to present himself as his own man, but that effort is undercut every time he rushes to W’s defense. He winds up talking much more than he should about 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lisman’s “George W. Bush” is his Wall Street career.

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Vermont conservatives step out onto an invisible bridge

What do you do if you’re a small frog in a big pond? Well, you can be content with your lot and get along with the bigger frogs; you could move to a smaller pond; or you could drain the big pond until you’re the biggest frog left standing.

The third course is the preferred option of Vermont conservatives. The likes of Mark “Little Snell” Snelling, Brady Toensing, John McClaughry, and Wendy Wilton have seemingly opted out of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s party-broadening operation; they’re backing the longshot write-in campaign of Libertarian Dan Feliciano for the VTGOP gubernatorial nomination. They’re likely to end up with egg on their faces and crow on their plates when the votes are counted; Scott Milne is virtually assured of taking the nomination if only because his name is on the ballot and write-ins are hard.

But their strategery does have a certain logic, an internally consistent reading of history. It’s dead wrong, natch, but there is a narrative. It’s like this: over the last 50 years or so, the Republicans have done best when they lean right, even when it means short-term defeat. (This storyline is the subject of Rick Perlstein’s three-volume history of the rise of the right; the just-published third book, “The Invisible Bridge,” chronicles the years between Richard Nixon’s resignation and Ronald Reagan’s national ascendancy.) Nixon killed the Sixties; Reagan established the rise of the right; George W. Bush took it even further. On the other hand, temporizers like Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney proved to be electoral dead ends.

Which is why so many conservatives truly believe the best course for the Republican Party is to nominate Ted Cruz. And why a small cadre of Vermonters are backing Feliciano.

It’s a coherent, logical view of national political trends. But it doesn’t apply in Vermont and the Northeast. Conservative Republicanism is pretty much dead in New York and New England*; the rare Republican winners are all moderates.

*Maine Governor Paul LePage is a Tea Partier, but an electoral fluke; he won with less than 40% of the vote in a three-way race.

In Vermont, it’s been decades since a true conservative won anything important. Republican winners have all come from the center or center-right: Dick Snelling, Jim Jeffords, Jim Douglas, Bob Stafford. And in the latter days of the Republicans’ Hundred Year Reich, the George Aiken wing led the way.

In short, that long national arc has completely bypassed Vermont – and the Northeast, for that matter. The national conservative ascendancy is based on four factors that have nothing to do with the Northeast: the GOP’s co-optation of southern whites, growing anti-government sentiment in the West and Southwest; Christian conservatism; and the generous support of deep-pocketed One Percenters like the Koch brothers and Foster Friess. None of that applies in Vermont. If anything, the trend in this neck of the woods is to the left. Even in hard-bitten old New Hampshire. To see a growing conservative movement in Vermont is to see dancing cartoon unicorns or pink elephants. There may have been an Invisible Bridge between Nixon and Reagan; but usually when you step onto an invisible bridge, you wind up all wet.  

 

On Jim Jeffords

I don’t have much to add to the outpouring of words, messages, and comments on the death of former Senator Jim Jeffords. I didn’t move to Vermont until his very last year in office; and by then, he had largely withdrawn from the public sphere. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.

Jim Jeffords was a rare politician: one willing to vote his conscience even if it offended his colleagues. As a liberal, I cheered his decision to go independent in 2001 and tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. I could well understand why he did so: the Bush Administration was clearly intent on pushing the country far to the right. W’s definition of “bipartisanship” was “my way or the highway.” Not to mention that Bush was a terrible President, and the more power he had, the worse it was for the nation and the world.

 That said, I can understand why Jeffords was a villain to so many Republicans: after putting up with the Reagan years and the anti-Clinton madness of the 90s, he chooses to leave the Republican Party just when it hurt the most – when it tipped the balance of power in the Senate. It’s not unlike how Virginia Democrats feel about ex-Senator Philip Puckett, who resigned after being offered a cushy job. His departure and replacement by a Republican tipped the balance in the Virginia Senate.

 The two cases are not the same, obviously; Jeffords wasn’t offered a cushy job. But the impact was the same.

 And while Jeffords honestly felt he had no place in the modern-day GOP, his departure was the death knell for moderate Republicanism in Vermont. He served as a powerful example to other moderate Republicans, that the party had nothing to offer them. And for conservative Vermonters, I’m sure he became a symbol of moderate perfidy. I imagine that the antipathy toward Phil Scott’s moderate movement expressed by the likes of Darcie Johnston and Jack Lindley is largely engendered by Jim Jeffords’ apostasy. Honestly, if I were a conservative, looking at Phil Scott (or another moderate) in light of my experience with Jeffords, would I trust him to uphold the values of the GOP as I see them? Might I fairly view Scott as another potential turncoat? There’s certainly been speculation aplenty that Scott might someday run for Governor as an independent.

 I’m not saying that any of this is Jim Jeffords’ fault. He had abundant reason to believe that he was already an outcast in the Bush-era Republican Party. He didn’t cause the death of New England moderate Republicanism; he was just the last and loudest one to go. For that, he will always be a hero to liberals, and a turncoat to conservatives.

It would be fascinating to see an alternative timeline where Jeffords stuck it out as a Republican, and remained healthy and vibrant after his retirement. Could he have been an effective “leader emeritus” of a more moderate — or at least more inclusive — Vermont Republican Party? We’ll never know, but things might have turned out very differently for the VTGOP.

George W. Bush’s education time bomb

Some of our former President’s policies were clearly and obviously dumb, like the two wars that have left two countries in ruins, or his refusal to raise taxes to pay for those wars, or the laissez-faire attitude toward high finance that opened the door to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

A few of his policies looked good, at least on the surface. But it seems as though there’s a worm inside every apple. Medicare Part D helped seniors get their prescriptions, but it was unnecessarily complicated and barred the government from negotiating on drug prices; thus it was a huge giveaway to Big Pharma. On his watch, many standards and regulations were relaxed (or ignored), but acceptable cholesterol levels were lowered significantly; again, a giveaway to Big Pharma.

And then there was No Child Left Behind, an idea that actually brought Bush and Ted Kennedy together. But there was a time bomb hidden in the workings of NCLB:

Each year for the past 13 years, the NCLB Act has lowered the allowable percentage of students whose test results suggest they are not proficient in math or language arts. This year, that percentage became zero.

In effect, all it takes for a school to labeled as low performing is for a single student to fail to reach a score of proficient.

This, from a story published in the journalistic Dead Zone of the Saturday papers. The Mitchell Family Organ and the Freeploid both reported on what this means for Vermont schools; I’m quoting from the former.

The focus of the story is a letter written last week by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, seeking to explain the fact that virtually every school in the state has been labeled “low performing” by the remorseless federal standard.

Most other states took advantage of a loophole in NCLB; they got federal waivers in exchange for agreeing to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers and principals. Why didn’t Vermont do likewise?

Holcombe said Vermont did not apply for the waiver because research has shown standardized tests to be unreliable for teachers in classrooms with 15 or fewer students, which compose nearly half of the classrooms in the state.

“It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools,” Holcombe wrote.

Some other states have belatedly realized that the waiver is a bad deal, and are backing out. The problem is, NCLB sets draconian penalties for low-performing schools, potentially including the wholesale firing of school staff, the conversion of a “failing” school to a charter school, or even turning the whole thing over to the state or to a private education company.

Far from a real effort at improving education, No Child Left Behind is a real-life version of the old frog-in-a-pot-of-water meme. If you put a frog in hot water, so the story goes, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will stay put and die. If NCLB had tossed the system into a boiling pot, there would have been instant reaction. Instead, it slowly and steadily turned up the heat. Whichever option the states chose — performance or waiver — school systems are right and truly screwed.

Kudos to Secretary Holcombe for pointing out the inherent absurdity in the situation, and how the system “does not serve the interest of Vermont schools, nor does it advance our economic or social well-being.”

It’s just another rotting apple in the Bush-el. Worst… President… Ever.

Postscript. Let the record show that Your Two U.S. Senators, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy, voted “No” on the final version of NCLB. They were two of only ten Senators to do so.