National Review’s take on Vermont

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(Host) Commentator David Moats joins us today with some thoughts sparked by a recent article in “The National Review” magazine.

(Moats) Boy, oh boy, did Jonah Goldberg get up on the wrong side of the bed. He’s the writer of that article in the National Review that trashes Vermont because he saw facially pierced people on Church Street.

Oh, that’s not all he saw. He saw rallies and petitions. He saw books by liberals in the bookstores. He’s afraid that, poor us, we’ve been colonized by flatlanders. As for Howard Dean, he’s the king of the flatlanders.

This guy should lighten up. My kid has a piercing, and he’s the nicest guy you could ever meet. Somehow Jonah was expecting to find “yeoman farmers” on the streets of Burlington, and because the clich he brought with him on his visit didn’t prove true, he was disappointed.

But what’s really going on here? Why would one of the nation’s leading conservative journals devote its cover story to a diatribe so far removed from reality?

The answer is not hard to see. If conservatives can draw a caricature of Vermont, they can ridicule and marginalize Vermont. And if they can marginalize Vermont, they can marginalize Howard Dean.

There is a legitimate conservative complaint about the way things have gone in Vermont for the past, oh, 40 years. But for a writer from out of state to come here and bemoan the loss of Vermont’s authentic native customs seems a little peculiar.

Apparently, Americans are not supposed to move anywhere, not to California, New York, Florida, or Vermont. Otherwise, they will end up colonizing the place. But Americans are always moving, and the places they move to are always changing. To appreciate this country is to go to its distinct and odd little corners and to appreciate how unusual they are, geographically, historically, culturally.

In recent months I’ve been to places as distinct as Walla Walla, Washington; Tallahassee, Florida; and New York City. Who am I to tell the people of Walla Walla how to be?

I thought conservatives believed that government close to the people was better. Well, Vermont has government close to the people, and it has done its own thing. That is supposed to be good, unless Jonah Goldberg doesn’t like our thing.

Outsiders may want to conjure up a division between native Vermonters and flatlanders, but on the most divisive issue in recent memory, that cliche didn’t hold. Civil unions were brought about as a result of a court decision written by Jeffrey Amestoy, a Rutland native, and the legislative skill of Tom Little, a Burlington native. Both are Republicans. Civil unions were supported by plenty of good old-fashioned Vermonters who took a good look at their neighbors and decided the hold of ancient prejudice would have to end.

But the Goldberg story and the trashing of Vermont are not about reality. They are about trashing Howard Dean and trashing ideas that have taken root here. Jonah Goldberg ought to have another look. This is one of the most pleasant and humane places to live in the 50 states. We must be doing something right.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to use from our studio in Norwich.

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