Vermont Is Hell

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Vermont Is Hell

The picture on the cover of the October 13th issue of The National Review is of an idyllic Vermont farm scene. Scrawled across the picture in big bold type is the four-letter word, “Hell.” Republicans are supposedly licking their chops at the prospect of Howard Dean winning the Democratic nomination for President. They see him as the Democratic candidate easiest to beat. But, not willing to take any chances, Jonah Goldberg, an online editor of the National Review, has written a slanderous article on Howard Dean that ends up as an attack on Vermont as well.

Goldberg made “two recent trips” to Vermont. He visited Burlington and Montpelier where, he says, the State House displays portraits of “futsy old Vermonters.” He spoke to a couple of Republicans, a kid in a coffeehouse, and Hal Goldman, a lawyer who made his mark in Vermont arguing against civil unions.

Goldman gave Goldberg the theme of his article. Vermont has been taken over by “flatlanders” in an “invasion” that “represents perhaps the most complete case of internal American colonialism since the destruction of the Indian,” Goldman said. “Hundreds of thousands of highly educated, well-off people invaded a state with a unique culture and history. They seized control of its resources and institutions, demeaned and destroyed the indigenous values of its people, altered the landscape, and drove many of the natives from their homes as a result of their activities. If this happened in Africa,” Goldman continued, “the same people would call it colonialism. In Vermont, it's called liberal chic. The colonists are arrogant, disrespectful, and hypocritical. And Howard Dean is their king." Wow!

Goldberg’s journalistic technique is worth noting here. He spends a few days in the state, interviews people who are sure to tell him what he wants to hear, and then writes a story upholding his initial bias. That’s like the approach the Bush administration had towards invading Iraq. They consulted Iraqis who they knew would tell them what they wanted to hear and then based their policy on what turned out to be (and was obvious at the time) false information. The Bush administration invaded Iraq without knowing anything about Iraqi culture or society. Goldberg in Vermont at least speaks the language.

Goldberg knows as much about Vermont as former Republican Senatorial candidate Jack McMullen knew about cows. A millionaire flatlander from Massachusetts, McMullen hoped to use his money to defeat Pat Leahy in the 1998 Senatorial election. But he was defeated in the GOP primary by a retired farmer and native Vermonter, Fred Tuttle. McMullen’s denouement came when Tuttle asked him how many teats a dairy cow has. McMullen answered “six” and it was downhill thereafter.

The flatland-woodchuck divide makes for light humor in an editorial cartoon. Using it as a heavy weapon to attack Dean simply advertises Goldberg’s ignorance about Vermont life, politics, and culture. Many flatlanders are liberal or progressive but you can’t tell a Vermonter’s politics from where she or he came from. The state’s first openly gay legislator, the late Ron Squires, was the son of a native Vermont dairy farmer. And Ruth Dwyer, the right-wing Republican whom Howard Dean defeated in his last race for Governor, was homophobic and a flatlander.

The right wing doesn’t like Vermont or Vermonters. Our congressional delegation is “the most obnoxious in Washington,” according to Goldberg. Congressman Bernie Sanders is “a joke,” Senator Pat Leahy is “considered the most arrogant and nasty Democratic senator today,” and Jim Jeffords, castigated for having “scuttled” the Republican agenda, is somehow compared to the murderers of Nicole Brown Simpson in a convoluted sentence that I can’t make head nor tail of.

Perhaps what galls right-wingers is that we’re a generally tolerant, non-judgmental people. Children of flatlanders marrying into woodchuck families are so commonplace that it barely merits notice. In the last election, Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders was the top vote getter, not only in the state but also in the Northeast Kingdom, a rugged, rural part of Vermont with the fewest flatlanders.

In Iraq, the United States had smart bombs. In Vermont, Goldberg fires duds. Act 250, Vermont’s tough environmental law, is criticized by Goldberg as an attempt by flatlanders to “make the state hospitable to red-diaper babies from New York and gay couples…." Actually, the Act was championed and signed into law by Deane Davis, a conservative Republican governor and Vermont native.

Despite Goldberg’s expressed concern for the indigenous culture of Vermont natives, he has little use for Vermont farmers. The Dairy Compact, which he blames on the Vermont congressional delegation (banging “their spoons on their highchairs”) is described as a “subsidy that makes milk more expensive for poor kids -- solely to preserve Vermont’s Sweden-like economy.” But here Goldberg is tangled in hypocrisy and misinformation. To the degree that flatlanders are responsible for the Dairy Compact, they are fighting to protect Vermont’s traditional agricultural heritage, which Goldberg earlier says they are bent on destroying. Moreover, the Compact is a sectional not an ideological issue; right-wing Republicans support subsidies when it goes to their constituents, like cotton growers in Mississippi. At least Goldberg shows a concern for poor children, probably the first time a National Review writer has ever expressed such a sentiment. But it’s right-wing Republicans who are bent on destroying the WIC program that provides poor children and their families with nutritional dairy products.

Could it be that right-wingers are running scared? Not only do they deem it necessary to slander a candidate, they’re also going after his state. “Vermont is hell” is the kind of ridiculous political argument that the right wing has in store for all the Democratic candidates and the people of their states.

Marty Jezer

Marty Jezer

Marty Jezer  was a well-known Vermont activist and author. Born Martin Jezer and raised in the Bronx, he earned a history degree from Lafayette College. He was a co-founding member of the Working Group on Electoral Democracy, and co-authored influential model legislation on campaign finance reform that has so far been adopted by Maine and Arizona. He was involved in state and local politics, as a campaign worker for Bernie Sanders, Vermont's Independent Congressional Representative, and as a columnist and Town Representative. Jezer had been an influential figure in progressive politics from the 1960s to the time of his death. He was editor of WIN magazine (Workshop In Nonviolence), from 1962-8, was a writer for Liberation News Service (LNS), and was active in the nuclear freeze movement, and the organic farming movement (he helped found the Natural Organic Farmers' Association). Marty died in 2005.

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