Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Election advice: Don't worry, be happy

Every Vermont liberal I know currently spends most of the day holding his or her breath. The cause of the breath-holding? What once seemed like a steady march to victory for Sen. Barack Obama has turned into a cliffhanger. They’re waiting out an election cycle that is the most gripping in 40 years.

For all of these breathless liberals, I have devised a nearly surefire preventative, to keep them from turning election-map blue and keeling over dead between now and Nov. 4.

But first, a few random thoughts on the politics of the day.

* * *

Blame Anthony Pollina all you want for having the temerity to mess up the Democrats’ clean shot at ousting Republican Gov. Jim Douglas (and I do blame him). But also give Pollina credit for keeping his eye on the debilitating effects of America’s continued occupation of Iraq.

At a time when even the admirably anti-war Obama has taken to barely mentioning the multi-billion-dollar cost of the war, Pollina still places it front and center. As Pollina put it in a flier recently distributed by a few die-hard dreamers backing his candidacy, “I will take on, not avoid, the biggest issue of our time. I will engage Vermonters in a discussion about the impact of the Iraq War on every decision we make here in Vermont … The war must be a part of every conversation we have about out economy.”

Bringing that point home, the National Priorities Project estimates that taxpayers in Middlebury alone will eventually pay $11.8 million to cover our share of the war’s cost.

That immoral expense -- $341 million per day overall – is especially staggering in view of the impending bailout of the nation’s shot-itself-in-the-head financial industry. Exactly how does the Administration propose to pay for both the bailout and the war?

To clarify, I’m not opposed to some sort of bailout. Solutions to these kinds of problems are way above my pay grade. And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders makes a lot of sense when he calls for more protections for taxpayers in the bailout, and for higher taxes on the super-wealthy ($1 million annual income per couple) to help pay for it.

So will Pollina’s insistence on the centrality of the Iraq War get him anywhere? Not a chance.
Like virtually every other third-party candidate in the past century, he’s doomed to play the spoiler’s role. The result will be yet another term for Gov. Douglas.

Yet the governor remains the biggest obstacle to the kind of progress on healthcare and the environment that’s supported by Pollina and the state’s huge Democratic majority. As occurred with Douglas’s initial ascension to the governor’s seat, the presence of a Progressive/independent candidate just ensures that Douglas will one day collect an even bigger government pension. And in the meantime, he’ll stick around to pay several of his aides a reported $100,000 or more per year – at a time when more and more Vermonters are underemployed or out of work all together.

The one thin reed on which the hopes of Vermont’s liberals rest, in this race, is the possibility that no gubernatorial candidate will get a majority – and that the Legislature will miraculously turn into a collection of Machiavellians.

Recall that when Douglas initially became governor, he pulled the most votes in the election but didn’t get a majority. By virtue of Vermont’s constitution, that outcome throws the final decision to the Legislature. When that last happened, legislators politely gave the governor’s seat to Douglas as the highest vote-getter.

Would the now more partisan and much more Democrat-dominated Legislature do the same thing again? Probably.

But the possibility remains that, given the lack of a majority winner, legislators could pick their own Gaye Symington. After all, she was willing to step into the lion’s den as the Democratic candidate for governor when no one else was willing to take on the popular Douglas, after the spoiler Pollina had already entered the race.

* * *

In truth, though, the attention of our state’s many political junkies remains focused on the presidential race.

Or at least it was until the crafty old G.I. John McCain changed the subject by naming Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential pick.

With Palin the center of attention, few people seem to have noticed that McCain still owns seven or eight houses but will have to get back to us on exactly how many; that he’s recently refused to affirm that he’ll meet with the prime minister of Spain, a strong NATO ally; and that he’s looking increasingly old and robotic.

Yes, I feel sorry for the senator when he tries to raise his arms and can’t get them above shoulder-high. And like most Americans, I admire his courage in surviving and triumphing over five years of torture as a prisoner of war.

Still, I’ve got to worry, at age 72 with all he’s been through including multiple melanomas – is he literally fit enough for the toughest job in the world?

But I do give the guy credit for diverting an entire planet from discussing those kinds of questions, and getting us to focus instead on the Wasilla woman from the wilds of
Alaska.

* * *

OK, as promised, here’s how to stay sane between now and Nov. 4. This is for you folks who are losing sleep over how many colleges Palin attended and over McCain’s insistence that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, even as he vows to clean out the corruption on Wall Street caused by all those guys from whom he’s taken millions of campaign dollars.

The solution lies in becoming what Jackson Browne called “a happy idiot.”

If you lie awake at night fretting about the Supreme Court, then it’s time to do some magical thinking. The road to sanity lies in simply convincing yourself that Sen. Obama will in fact win, and adopting a what-me-worry grin.

Yes, it may seem naïve to believe that it will all work out just fine. It usually doesn’t.
But just fussing over every wrinkle in the news cycle gets you stone-dead nowhere. I promise you that optimism is a lot more effective than gnashing your teeth every time John McCain says “my friends.”

If all you’re doing is worrying, it’s way worse than indifference. You might as well worry about when the leaves will turn. The results of the presidential election in Vermont are already decided. The only drama remaining is whether Vermont or Massachusetts will give the highest percentage of votes to Obama.

But if you just can’t let it all go and trust that America is grand and wise enough to elect its first African-American president and such a remarkably talented leader, then please -- send in a donation, join a phone bank to call voters in battleground states, or make plans to walk precincts and do get-out-the-vote in New Hampshire.

And then stop whining. You’ll feel ever so much better.

- 30 -

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