Vermont’s last Republican Century ended in 1962 when Phil Hoff became the first democratic governor in a blue dog’s age. The Republican Party then bore little or no resemblance to the party of today. It’s latter period, as Governor Madeleine Kunin has pointed out, was marked by innovative and aggressive environmental legislation, the entrance of women into positions of political power and an abiding belief in community investment and support of the social safety net, but all within one’s means. They simply did not believe in spending money they didn’t have or incurring unreasonable debt that would burden succeeding generations. They were men, and later women, who spoke to one another respectfully for the most part and maintained a sense of civility, comity and humor. Ralph Flanders, George Aiken, Bob Gannett, Dean Davis, Dick Snelling, Dick Mallary, Art Gibb come to mind. Having grown up in Vermont with these people in power, this is a party I could join today. What happened?
Today the party that ruled Vermont for so long seems to be defined more by what it opposes than by the solutions it offers. Too often today, the party’s methods depart from its tradition of civility, comity and humor in favor of fear tactics, half-truths, obstruction, oversimplification and moral grandstanding. Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic left has a propensity to use manipulative tools and media to forward its agenda and they have a long history of rabble-rousing.
To paraphrase an old civil rights saying “some of my best friends are Republicans.” But many of them are adrift, alienated from the party they knew and the philosophy that defined it…. homeless Republicans.
Vermont and the country need a vibrant two-party system composed of people capable of meeting in the middle and shaking hands rather than fists. The explosive growth of voters who define themselves as independents is a sign of the decline of the two leading parties. They’ve abandoned the center, the electorate and the best interests of the country, sidetracked us by turning issues like gun control, abortion rights, taxation, immigration, property rights and healthcare into shouting matches. Both the right and the left are too close to the precipice to do the average American voter much good right now.
But I focus on the Republican Party because it has such deep provenance in Vermont and for so long successfully shepherded Vermont’s communities and citizens through hard times.
The wisest thing the Vermont Republican Party could do now to counter the burgeoning field of Democratic candidates entering the race would be to field a centrist candidate who shares the values of Vermont’s dominant independents, has proven leadership skills, and meets colleagues in the center with civility and the intelligence to address our problems head on as the old guard did so successfully for a century. Going forward, we will need to do more with less, as we did between 1854 and 1962. Republicans of that era seemed to know how.