Sunday, July 20, 2008

I went to the first debate...

...And the first thing I noticed, after the person walking in the rain along Route 100, was the flashing siren of a VT State Police car. The rain was pouring down in sheets that normally only lasted 5 minutes but had been persistent all day and were to get more torrential as the night went on.

I was at American Flatbread in Waitsfield...eager for what was the first of many gubernatorial debates.

As I walked into the venue - there were two VT State police troupers - one, a very cute blonde, looking, as Vermont Police tend to look, concerned and amused like the most they had to deal with was some crazy old political guy wanting to steal the show from the "big wigs"...which, in truth, was exactly what they were doing.

Peter Diamondstone - representative of the Liberty Union Party - was forcibly removed. Peter looks like a Bread and Puppet puppeteer or a bit like Alan Newman, except not so well groomed. He had been escorted to the front of the driveway and was standing, umbrella-less in the raid between a big VT trooper and the little cute looked like either his wife or someone accusing him standing out of range but within 5 feet of him - I didn't hear much when I walked by but I smiled to myself, thinking that it just wouldn't be Vermont if there wasn't some wack-job getting peaceably removed from the place...

thank good for the wack-jobs.

In fact the debate itself was more boring than the little altercation at the front gate. With not more than 1 minute to answer questions and 30 seconds to rebut, we were all assured of sound bytes and that's what we got. The candidates know. Jim Douglass is a pro, this type of forum was best suited to him, quick sound bytes, not much detail, all wrapping paper and bows - Jim Douglass loves that. Pollina is a politician whether he says he is or not and I am not sure whether he does say it...but he is smooth and passionate and in this debate that smoothness was enough...Pollina enjoyed talking about what he had done in the past which is endlessly and powerfully hopeless to me and I wish he wouldn't...but he did and he did a lot. Symington was lost. I almost felt bad for her at times, which means I did. She seemed to me like a frustrated innocent. Not agreeing but not knowing how to best express it but also knowing that there are some fundamental beliefs somewhere, just not sure where. Symington stumbled, it was not pretty. She was not clear and at times was actually embarrassingly disconnected. In her defense I do not think her disconnection was anything but nerves and anxiety - regardless, she did not come off well.

There were about 1000 Vermonters in attendance. All white (except for one), as many men as women but more older men, with longer, grey hair and wire rim glasses and more younger women, brimming with indignation and bright eyes.

There was Flatbread and Beer.

And free Ben and Jerry's.

Each contestant had their own chair and mic and each contestant had 1 minute to answer each question and then 30 seconds to rebut any of their opponents answers. It was too little time to expect much of anything.

The questions started and the rains poured down - the deluge thundering on the room inciting all the candidates to use their most booming voice - something that Symington really doesn't like, it doesn't fit her; something that Douglass hates, he's a reports and statistics loving guy and one for dry, overly intelligent humor; Pollina feels as comfortable raising his voice as I do slipping into a wood fired hot tub after a day on the mountain. I could almost here him chuckling to himself on stage wondering how he got so lucky as to draw a pair like Gaye and Jim...

The funny thing is I don't think he has a chance in the long term.

However - back to basics - There was nothing real about the answers the three gave...nothing that needs to be debated or even delved into here...suffice it to say that if you want to know what happened in the debate all you have to do is read the press clippings of any interview of any of the's all the same.

Well - not ALL the same, just mostly. A few points to take from the first salvo - Jim Douglass thinks we are doing great. He thinks we are trying hard, he thinks if we just keep working hard at it we will get there. He thinks we are getting there. Funny, though, he also was the only one of the three to mention that we were in "difficult times". So chew on that one for a while. The two consistencies in Gov. Doug's theme tonight were "we are doing a great job" and we are in "difficult times".

Pollina said somethings that actually made sense to me and came from a place of commitment and familiarity. His knowledge and support of buy local, support local has much deeper roots, publicly at least, than Douglass and Symington and it sounds like that when he speaks. This is a strength. But he still talked too much about his past. Doesn't Mr. Pollina know that people only want to know what you've been convicted of not what you've done to build...get with it, grow up and out of your comfort zone and have the courage to talk about today.

Symington...lost. She came across most unprepared, most unaccustomed, most fragile. I can only say that it doesn't make sense to tout a legislative record that has certainly not demonstrated the potential vote getting power she supposedly controls with her majority. She stumbled on answers, looking to me like a frustrated innocent who knows she has it right, who can feel it but who just can't get it out...and it makes me wonder...Why can't she get it out?

after 10 questions - with a final surprise question at the end: "what did you eat today" which was as comically Vermont as it gets...and which none of the candidates answered truthfully...the debate...if that's what you could call it, came to an end.

Flatbread and salad from the back yard was served. I didn't have a beer but I imagine it was locally brewed. The people that put this shindig together are doing it for real and I am inspired by their efforts.

The candidates on the other usual...didn't see what was right in front of them...and for that they all lost. I am going to cover this bloodbath of ideals until I hear someone acknowledge that the best politician is one that's not heard or seen because things are going so well for the people of Vermont because the people of Vermont are living educated, sustainable, renewable, responsible lives and not because there is someone that promises subsidies and government oversight. This is the only issue of concern for me.

The politicians think they have the answers. They don't realize the only answers to be had are in the hearts and minds of the people and unless they (the polys) get out of the way and focus on the system and not the personalities we will never function as we must to survive.

As I left I had a smile on my face. I wondered how many people who attended were "real" Vermonters and I wondered if it mattered. As if on cue I walked by the field opposite my parking area, which upon first glance was obviously a car trap for anyone without 4 wheel drive. It had been pouring down rain all day and somehow, some people thought parking in a low lying field with a corolla was a good idea.

I chuckled as a few, hopeless and muddied, tried in vain to remove their vehicles. It wasn't going to happen. There was no doubt. I chuckled because these people, the ones who parked in the wet, low lying field after an all day rain...these people are the ones that deserve the candidates we have, or at least the ones we had tonight.

If it doesn't get any better I am going to go in search of Peter Diamondstone.

Reporting from Bolton Mountain Communication Complex -
damon brink

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