The feisty independence of Vermonters is in our DNA. In our brief flirtation with nationhood, Vermont was, for fourteen years, its own Republic before it joined the original thirteen colonies in 1791. Like any new family member, it acquired the benefits and obligations of the family it joined. During the World Wars it produced precision mechanical engineering as well as cedar oil to keep armament from rusting. From the Civil War to the Iraq War, Vermont has produced more than its allotted share of cannon fodder for the just defense of the nation as well as for its vainglorious military follies.
In the declared judgment of both political parties, the executive and economic leadership of the family of states is currently dysfunctional. Vermont has struggled to hold its people, culture and environment harmless. But the reality of family dynamics is such that in spite of the efforts of individual family members to compensate for dysfunction, such efforts are usually in vain unless the problem is addressed at the family level.
What does this mean for us? Vermont has worked hard around the edges of problems which it alone cannot solve. The failure of Washington to address strategic problems of energy, healthcare, education, environmental degradation, infrastructure and now financial system collapse leaves its member states trying in vain to compensate and fend for themselves. Vermont and many other states have done remarkably well bringing innovation to unsolved national problems, but we are constantly reminded of the art of the possible, especially since Vermont has historically committed itself to fiscal responsibility, which many other States have long since abandoned. The family, no matter how resourceful cannot alone solve the problem of a dysfunctional parent, they can only compensate.
Nearly a trillion dollars in federal taxes paid from the states have been diverted from productive purpose to the military adventure in Iraq. Some portion of another trillion will inevitably be diverted to compensate for the gross mismanagement and self-serving economic theories of people who have never produced anything, but see “doing deals” as a means to wealth.
Political leaders in both Vermont parties have tried hard to improve or sustain the lives of Vermonters, but the accelerating level of national dysfunction has diverted focus and resources from the well being of states.
The Snelling Center recently convened a colloquium on Vermont’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. Innovative, resourceful attendees from all sectors and disciplines put forth ideas for dealing locally with what everyone knew at heart could not be fully resolved without the participation and resources of a nation that cares about its infrastructure. The same applies to healthcare, energy and the other strategic challenges mentioned above.
We must remind ourselves that we are part of a family, a confederation of states, and that without strategic leadership from either political party both in Montpelier and in Washington, innovation and hard work will be compromised. Vermont and America hold great promise, but it is the promise of its working ,thinking people and we will need selfless, strategic leadership to work together to achieve it.