Letter to Democrats: So Long, It's Been Bad to Know You

The Third Way's real agenda
We are weeks away from the 2014 election, one that appears destined to deliver a crushing blow to the Democrats and deliver the Senate and quite a few of the remaining governorships into GOP hands. Am I depressed? Nope. The sooner the Democratic Party is destroyed, the faster reform-minded Americans will be forced to assemble a coalition that actually stands for something. Look around the Democratic Party: John Kerry, Barack Obama, the Clintons, Joe Biden, Mary Landrieu, Harry Reid, Debbie Stabenow, Cory Booker, Jay Rockefeller…. A pulse, anyone, a pulse? Better yet, a spine?

Here in Massachusetts we have Martha Coakley running for governor against Republican Charles Baker. Let’s see, both are pro-choice, pro-business, and pro-casino gambling. Do I give a damn if Charlie beats Martha? Nope. In fact, I hope he does. Here in the Bay State we use the slam “Martha Chokely.” She’s the pathetic loser who squandered a 30-point lead in a month and allowed the detestable Scott Brown to fill out Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate. Brown got whupped good by Liz Warren and hightailed it to New Hampshire to run for a different Senate seat. If he defeats Jeanne Shaheen, a rare principled Democrat, in November, you can blame Martha Chokely for rescuing Scott from the obscurity he so richly deserves.

I can hear some of you scream, “But what about Elizabeth Warren?” Love her! My God, the woman actually talks sense. A few days ago she lit into Obama with the blunt assessment that at every chance he had to come down on the side of ordinary Americans, he chose Wall Street. You go, Elizabeth! She’s right. Anyone looking at the Stock Market lately? It’s down over a thousand points this year. Thanks Barack. You delivered the market to the short-term profit makers who have now backed out, making even your tenuous claim to economic recovery look pathetic. So what’s the Democratic Party seeking to do to Liz Warren? Isolate her, of course.

Just when you think Dems can’t get any lamer, they manage. A Democratic think tank group calling itself The Third Way is out coaching candidates against what it calls “soak-the rich” advocates and “populists” like Warren. They tell everyone it’s the only way the party will win the “middle class.” Of please! Who wrote that crap, Ronald Reagan? It’s the same old tried bullshit about an “ownership society” that takes hard-pressed middle-income people, stuffs a few nostrums down their throat, and convinces them to believe that the middle class and the upper class are allies.

Let’s call The Third Way what it really is: Make Way for Hillary. Great. About the only thing America needs less than another Clinton is another Bush.  The Third Way is a business consortium and what it really wants is for Liz Warren to STFU. They don’t like the fact that she holds their feet to the fire and calls them the pirates they are. I mean, the woman talks banking regulations, for God’s sake! Can’t have that. So let’s get a Clinton in the Oval Office and some Third Way Democrats in with her so everyone can get a piece of the sweetheart action the Clintons cut for Wal-Mart. Remember Bonkin’ Bill? The guy who rewrote the Communications Act so that the same rightwing moguls could own more than one media outlet in the same market? The guy whose signature is on NAFTA? The one who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law? The one who dismantled Great Society welfare benefits?

But wait—it gets worse. Still another group of Democrats wants to steer the party away from environmentalism. Not surprisingly, they are centered in West Virginia, where Republicans are poised to take Jay Rockefeller’s seat. “Clean coal,” they cry. “Fairies, elves, and unicorns,” I reply. There’s no such thing as clean coal. What this is really all about is the same thing The Third Way wants: a total dismantling of business regulations. Up in Vermont you find another Democrat of conscience, Pat Leahy. Guess what Leahy has had to defend since the day he stepped into the U.S. Senate? Vermont’s Act 250, its Land Use and Development Act that requires compliance with environmental impact study findings before a project can be green-lighted. Guess who always funds Leahy’s opponents? Big Box retailers and resort developers.

The Democrats are going to bleed in November. I hope it’s fatal. I want to see the Warrens, Shaheens, and Leahys of the world with stethoscopes around their necks, shaking their heads, and pulling the plug on the life-support machines. I want them to start over. And go ahead and hate me, but I’m writing in Dan Berwick’s name for Massachusetts governor. Of my candidates, I require a pulse and a spine.



A Trip to Vermont is Good for the Soul

Not everything that's good for your soul makes sense. That's why, yesterday, we found ourselves heading north through the predawn fog for a 3-½ hour drive to have breakfast at Klinger's, a South Burlington, Vermont bakery. That was followed by a hike in Red Rocks Park, a stroll down Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, a drive to Montpelier to have a late brunch at the New England Culinary Institute, then the southward journey home broken only by a brief peak into Queechee Gorge. That's about it–seven hours driving for a cinnamon meltaway, some lakeside exercise, window-shopping, and brunch. And it was the best thing we've done in months.

I admit to being a total romantic about Vermont. It's little exaggeration to say that we spent the first quarter century of our lives in Pennsylvania, but that we "grew up" in the eight years we lived in northern Vermont. We were there when Ben & Jerry's made ice cream in a refurbished downtown Burlington gas station, when Bernie Sanders was mayor, when IBM ruled Essex Junction, when First Night debuted, when traffic was banned from Church Street, when baseball returned to the Queen City, when you tripped over downtown bookstores, and Woolworth's and Grand Union were the only chain stores in evidence. In Vermont we held the first professional jobs we actually enjoyed, helped run a folk club, ate the first fresh bagels that ever passed our lips, and both played like kids and took on our first adult responsibilities.

But nostalgia isn't why yesterday's back-numbing road trip felt so good. It's because a trip to Vermont is life affirming. There is, of course, its jaw-dropping beauty. If you've forgotten what awe feels like, drive through the Ascutney region as the sun is coming up and the mist is swirling round the base of its peaks like volcanoes being filled from the bottom. Watch patches of distant hillsides emerge from their veils of morning condensation illumined in October glory. Vermonters will tell you that this year hasn't been great for foliage, but they say that every year, and you can just nod your head whilst recalling that one shapely maple you saw–afire in red perfection, a prima donna strutting its stuff among its yellowed neighbors. And there's just not much in this world that compares to walking upon a Lake Champlain peninsula to behold the Green Mountains rising across the blue expanse to the east and the Adirondacks to the west.

Vermont also feels like a place where America still works. It's a state where they grade your civil service exam on the spot, and one where they don't refer problems to some damn city planning board when a road washes out–they just dump loads of gravel on it and complain about it at Town Meeting Day in March, like sensible people should do. You see young women wearing Sorrel boots, not Uggs, because the latter make no friggin' sense. Flannel is a matter of pragmatism, not affectation. You hear people talking politics, but without the self-righteous pretension and humorlessness of neighboring Massachusetts. Vermonters manage to be both crankily insular and civic-minded at the same time. Most of the Vermonters I know don't get lathered up about gay marriage, abortion, and other such nonsense because they think it's nobody's business what others do and that government ought to be there to remind busybodies to MYOB. Come 2016, Vermonters will give a Sorrel boot to both for-profit medicine and Obamacare when they put into place what the rest of America has needed for decades but doesn't have the guts to enact: single-payer health care.

I'm romantic about Vermont, but I'm not blind. It's not Utopia. No place with winters that long and that hard can be Utopia. I know there's way too much poverty up there, that the state has some serious drug problems, and that University of Vermont is one of the most expensive state universities in the nation because Vermont does a lousy job of raising and allocating money for public education. I've seen Corporate Generica erode Burlington's downtown uniqueness and witnessed plagues of Yuppies swarming at every hillside steep enough to support a ski lift. Green Mountain Coffee and Long Trail Beer are undrinkable.

For all its faults, though, I feel my tension levels drop and my spirits rise each time I cross the Vermont line. One bite of a Klinger's meltaway or glimpse of Champlain's cold waters replenishes me. Seven hours driving seems a small price to pay.