Shhh…you hear that? Yeah, that hissing sound. And the screeching, too. Ouch. That’s the sound of Democrats trying to co-manage the huge majorities they have in the Vermont State House. Yep, it’s he-cat Shumlin and she-cat Symington going claw-to-claw over who’s gonna look like they’re big enough and tough enough to be the Dem voice of opposition to Governor Douglas and his ever-so-calm approach to governing. And – oh boy – is Douglas ever loving their catfight.
Shumlin, of course, is the new leader of the Vermont Senate, a lifetime pol who just returned to politics after four years of hunting in a t-shirt and mending fences with his wife (not necessarily in that order). And Symington is the leader of the Vermont House, a lady who seems either really bored with her job or just in way over her head because whenever you talk with her or see her in the media she just looks like she’d rather be somewhere else. Both are Democrats. And both can’t stand one another, especially when both are being mentioned as possible opponents to Douglas in 2008.
The feud between the two has been on a slow simmer since Shumlin marched back into office last November. But it’s come to a boil of late as the two have been having their minions (and relatives) take not-so-subtle shots at one another in public and private. And today, with the publication of the Vermont Daily Briefing’s obnoxiously long interview with Shumlin, the war of words reached a new high as even the Snarky Boy got a ring-side seat as tips rolled in and “players” asked for my attention.
Okay, okay, I’ll play.
First, some back-story. Shumlin is addicted to the game of politics. He thought he was on a well-greased path to anything he wanted politically until he met the not-so-dynamic duo of Brian Dubie and Anthony Pollina in his race for Lite Guv in 2002. Because he had crapped on the left wing of the Dems enough as the leader of the Senate, Shumlin lost enough votes to Pollina to allow the dunce named Dubie to begin a most peculiar political career (Hey mom, look what I found!). Can you imagine losing to those two?
But Shumlin licked his wounds, put his marriage back together, made hundreds of thousands of dollars in his rather wacky business of taking wealthy kids to far away places for big bucks, and started over with a run for his old seat in the Senate. And, of course, he not only won his regular old seat back but he also elbowed the milquetoast Senator Campbell out in his successful pursuit for the Senate leadership position. Trust me, the guy knows hardball politics.
Symington, on the other hand, doesn’t live and breath politics like Shumlin. A development and management consultant for years – a role that thrives in the background – Symington seems to almost resent the attention that comes with being the Speaker of the House. But her husband, Chuck Lacy of Ben & Jerry’s fame and fortune, doesn’t seem to mind pushing her into very awkward political battles with her Senate compatriot, Shumlin.
Proof? That’s easy, consider Lacy’s letter to the Burlington Free Press last month in which he aggressively chided Shumlin for basically being a sissy for punting on the issue of gay marriage. Lacy referenced Shumlin’s “fears” and lack of “leadership” for the decision by the Dems in both houses to take a pass on the push by gay rights advocates to have Vermont play catch-up with states like Massachusetts and allow full marriage, not just the rather third-rate status of “civil unions.” And he concludes with this shot across Shumlin’s political bow: “History will not look kindly on Shumlin's political calculations here. Not in two years. Not ever.” Ouch. I guess that’s what they call “friendly fire.”
And where was Symington? Hmm, apparently hiding on the sidelines, this time behind her own husband. Weird.
But in the VDB interview, Shumlin comes out swinging on the issue, apparently still pissed off by the Lacy attack from last month. Here, for example, is Shumlin’s take on the Dems weak-kneed (oh shit, there goes that theme again) approach to full civil rights for gays:
On the marriage issue, my feeling was, in speaking to the Speaker [Symington], and she agreed with me, that we — now this is a direct quote from the Speaker, she said to me, “Listen, from our perspective, we just did civil unions. Because we lost the House over civil unions, and we just got it back four years ago. And we’re not ready to take it on again.” I listened to that advice and I said, you know, that makes sense.
Take that, Chuck! And, if you’ll come out from the shadows, Gaye, too!
The Dems are being Dems – calculating their way to a political never-never land known in the lay community as: Losers. And Douglas and the Republicans are loving every minute of it. For reasons that I’ll never understand, the Dems cannot lead with their hearts or their convictions – even when they know a vast majority of the Vermont public shares those convictions. The Republicans, in contrast, seem to have no qualms whatsoever with standing firm with ridiculous and unpopular political opinions. It was, for example, Douglas himself who just slept in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House as Bush’s guest. The Dems tried like hell to make an issue out of it and Douglas basically killed the chatter by saying: Deal with it, I am who I am.
Contrast that with the Dems on practically every issue, including the war, impeachment, gay rights, school funding, and the environment (unless it means buying stupid carbon offsets). They circle and circle and circle any issue – any issue! - -until it’s clear that they’re so fucking dizzy they don’t even know which end is up. Worse, then they start fighting amongst themselves over how to parse an issue that should have been as clear as the spring’s blue sky from the beginning.
And the lesson in all of this? Douglas is kicking the Dems’ ass. In a time when the Dems bragged about their “veto-proof majorities” in both houses of the legislature, they’re lined up in a circular firing squad shooting the hell out of one another and sending this message to the voters: We’ve got no plan but the plan of self-destruction.
And the reason is, sadly, very clear: Courage. It takes courage to lead. And it takes courage to get your finger out of the wind to see which way the political winds are blowing and, instead, be bold from your heart and trust your ability to make your case to the voters.
Shumlin and Symington are engaged in a scorpion-like dance with death. One thinks they will eat the other, forgetting that they need each other to truly survive. But, most sadly, it’s not only themselves that they’re killing, because they’re also killing the dreams of Vermonters who would like to see REAL political action on the issues that are near and dear to our hearts.
Shame on their narcissism. Damn it.