When I moved to Vermont in 1993, it was considered to be the most radical state in the Union. A few years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was still president, 180 Vermont towns passed nuclear-freeze resolutions in their town meetings. Burlington’s socialist mayor Bernie Sanders had just been elected to the Congress, Ben & Jerry’s was flying high with its so-called “caring capitalism,” the popular jam band Phish provided seductive sounds for thousands of Vermont hippies to get stoned by at ever popular outdoor rock festivals, and each summer over 25,000 gathered in the tiny village of Glover for the annual, radical, left-wing Bread and Puppet Theater’s presentation of “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” complete with side shows, music, pageant, and delicious homemade German sourdough rye bread made by Bread and Puppet founder, director, writer, actor, artist, and musician Peter Schumann.
These were heady times in Vermont politics. Political liberalism had an almost surreal quality to it. It felt like we were in La-La Land.
Whole departments at the University of Vermont were under the political control of Marxist oriented professors. The UVM Economics Department wouldn’t give me the time of day because I was considered to be too mainstream.
Twenty years later Vermont is no longer radical, but it has become almost reactionary. The political interests of today’s Vermont La-La Liberals are focused primarily on four issues – gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and the environment. Although Vermont La-La Liberals pay lip service to the interests of organized labor and the poor, there is no commitment whatsoever to either. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that these are unimportant issues, but rather that they are not the only issues facing Vermonters in the twenty-first century. There is something called the Empire!
Vermont’s pseudoliberals have little interest in foreign policy – the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen; Israeli acts of terrorism supported by the U.S., full spectrum dominance, or imperial overstretch. F-35 fighter jets, unmanned killer drones, Navy Seals, Delta Force death squads, and the White House kill list are not even on their radar screen. The fact that President Obama has granted himself the authority to order the assassination of anyone, anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked, no trial, and no due process has gone virtually unnoticed by the Left in Vermont. Nor do they appear to be particularly concerned with the fact that their destiny is strongly influenced by Wall Street and Corporate America.
The Vermont La-La Liberal approach to war and peace reminds me of my favorite line in my favorite movie, “Groundhog Day.” Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray are seated at a bar together having a drink, when Andie turns to Bill and says, “I want to say a prayer and drink to world peace.”
A fundamental tenet of Vermont’s feel good liberalism is, “Never offend anyone.” Well known liberals such as Sanders, Patrick Leahy, and Bill McKibben are beyond reproach. They must never be criticized by anyone!
At the crux of the matter is the fact that most left-wing Vermonters are oblivious to the fact that the United States has become an immoral, unsustainable, ungovernable, unfixable empire.
I believe that there are at least six factors which have contributed to the demise of Vermont liberalism:
Bernie Sanders, the ideological leader of Vermont, is not only not a socialist, but he is not even a political liberal. He is a technofascist war monger disguised as a liberal Bernie has never known a Pentagon military program which he did not want to embrace. He’s in bed with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, and the Sandia Corporation, the weapons of mass destruction producer.
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s brand of cutesy, commercial liberalism was always more about selling ice cream and hyping the price of its stock than it was about political ideology. Given the relatively passive nonconfrontational nature of its forays into the political arena, it was hard to take them very seriously. Ben & Jerry’s credibility as a political activist was even further eroded after it sold out to Unilever a few years ago. Furthermore, it always maintained very close ties to Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party. Most recently it has embraced the political campaign finance reforms and corporate personhood amendments promoted by the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The kind of political activism practiced by Ben & Jerry’s is not serious business, and it undermines the efforts of those committed to making real changes.
Although Phish is no longer active, its inane lyrics and monotonous, repetitive music helped promote hedonism, affluenza, and drug abuse in Vermont for two decades. The apolitical band seemed to be connected to nothing other than the Vermont drug scene. Phish helped Vermont become more like every place else.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben with his 350.org organization is ostensibly concerned with climate change, fossil fuel consumption, and peak oil. Yet somehow he seems to have overlooked the fact that the Pentagon is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels. McKibben is an apologist for the Empire with very close ties to Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy as well as Governor Peter Shumlin. He never has an unkind word to say about the Obama administration, the military-industrial complex, or American foreign policy. His primary objective seems to be to have large numbers of college kids running around screaming “350.org.” It’s difficult to take any of this very seriously.
Bread and Puppet
Over ten years ago Bread and Puppet discontinued its annual megapageants in favor of weekly circuses in July and August. Although Bread and Puppet is one of the most radical, left-wing political activist groups in Vermont, its political influence in Vermont has been minimal. First, Bread and Puppet performs mostly for out-of-state audiences which means that its political message is widely dispersed. Second, many of the skits and circus accts performed by Bread and Puppet are so obtuse and abstract, that their political content is often not easily understood.
Although I favor the legalization of the sale of marijuana, I am of the opinion that Vermonters smoke too much pot for their own good as well as the good of the Republic.
In summary, what has rendered Vermont liberalism morally and intellectually bankrupt is too much Bernie, too much Ben & Jerry’s, too much Phish, too much McKibben, too much Bread and Puppet, and too much pot.
Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence to suggest that La-La Liberalism is by no means unique to Vermont. Consider the recent Democratic Convention in Charlotte, NC which was long on rhetoric about gays, women, and minorities and short on specific proposals to jump start the economy, create more jobs, and tighten regulations on Wall Street banks.
All too little attention was devoted to foreign policy including the Middle East, our unconditional support for Israel, China’s global pursuit of natural resources, and what we will do if China cuts back on its purchases of U.S. debt.
Another hot spot for La-La Liberals is MSNBC. With the possible exception of Chris Hayes, all of the other MSNBC news analysts are La-La Liberals including Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, and Melissa Harris-Perry. They are all unconditional apologists for Obama and have no problem whatsoever conflating the advocacy of human rights abroad with American hegemony so as to justify our foreign policies of full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and might makes right.
Fortunately, the future for La-La Liberalism and most other liberals is bleak. So long as they continue to support the Empire and the belief that it is truly fixable, then they are dead in the water. But so too are conservatives who believe that all we need do is cut taxes and spending, and we will all live happily ever after.
The Cold War left-right, liberal-conservative paradigm has no meaning anymore. There is only one important issue on the table and that is human scale.
Thomas H. Naylor
September 19, 2012
Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.