Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

“But I’m not that kind of Republican”

Every time I talk with a Vermont Republican (which is happening more frequently now, by design), I hear a variation on the same tune: “I’m not that kind of Republican.” Meaning, I’m not like those extreme conservatives on the national level; I’m a moderate, Vermont kind of partisan.

Well, maybe, but what do they mean by that?

It seems to be roughly this: they don’t share national Republicans’ extreme views on social issues, which is a no-brainer; espousing the creeds of the Christian Right is a sure loser in Vermont. They don’t deserve much credit for tolerance on reproductive rights or marriage equality.

Things get fuzzier when it comes to fiscal issues.

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On journalism and blogging

If you’re not following me on Twitter, you missed a downright Pharisaical disputation about journalism and blogging and bias, and what exactly it is that I do.

My end of the argument has been severely restricted by Twitter’s character limit, so I thought I’d address the question in greater length here.

The critics are, quelle surprise, Phil Scott fans. In fact, the most persistent was Hayden Dublois, a nice young man who’s a paid staffer on the Scott campaign.

His complaint, echoed by others, is that I’ve been unfair to Scott because I’ve frequently criticized him while never scrutinizing Sue Minter.

Which is, as a matter of fact, not true. I was sharply critical of her campaign in its first several months; I thought she was getting left in the dust by Matt Dunne. I’ve criticized her for too often following Dunne’s lead and for failing to articulate differences between herself and the Shumlin administration. I criticized her performance in the post-primary debate for missing opportunities to confront Scott and for appearing overly programmed.

It is accurate, however, to say that I’ve been far more critical of Phil Scott. So, why is that?

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Welcome to Vermont. Please step out of the car.

Ah, leaf peeping season. Prime time for tourists, who come from far and wide to enjoy the autumnal beauty of our state.

Most tourists, anyway. If I were a person of color, I think I’d give it a skip. Especially if my car had New York or Massachusetts plates.

A few things conspire to put me in this frame of mind. First was a revealing, and disturbing, front-page spread in last Sunday’s Times Argus:

Racial profiling spurs state to action

And the sidebar:

“Invislble” racism in a mostly white state

The T-A is paywalled. If you’re not a subscriber, I recommend you find the paper in your local library. The stories are kind of eye-popping.

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Nobody’s figured out how to make this economy work

Vermont Republicans are fond of slamming the Shumlin Economy, cherrypicking statistics that make the Governor’s record look bad. They criticize his policies as crippling to economic growth and middle-class prosperity. (And now that Bernie Sanders is running for President, they try to blame all the ills of the last three decades on him, even though he hasn’t been running the place and would clearly have adopted very different policies if he had been. Protip to Republicans: correlation is not causation.)

And yes, in spite of very low unemployment, it’s inarguable that the recovery has been slow and spotty for most Vermonters. Their purchasing power has remained stagnant. But this isn’t just a Vermont phenomenon, and if you look at other states with conservative governments, they’re failing at least as badly as we are.

Last Friday, Talking Points Memo posted a piece about how four Republican governors are seeing their presidential aspirations undercut by severe budget problems back home — problems attributable to the failure of their policies to hotwire their economies.

The basic concept is as cartoonish as when it was first sketched on a napkin by Arthur Laffer: cut taxes and the economy will flourish. Revenues will rise, as government takes a smaller slice of a growing pie. Business, freed of its public-sector shackles, will lead us into a prosperous future.

Trouble is, it doesn’t work. In Louisiana, WIsconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, Republican tax-cutting policies have failed: all four states have sluggish economies and huge budget shortfalls. It’s worse on both sides than anything Peter Shumlin has inflicted on the state of Vermont.

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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.