Soil and water

Meg Hansen: Steelmanning on the Right and Rejection of Historical Revisionism

This commentary is from Meg Hansen of Manchester, a writer and former executive director of a Vermont health policy think tank. She ran for a state-level civil service in 2020.

What prompts someone to raise their self-esteem by slaughtering others he knows nothing about? Bill Schubart once chaired the parent organization of VTDigger, admittedly votes for Democrats and can afford to retire in Vermont. As a self-proclaimed opinion-writer, he deigns to read right-wing Vermonters so that he can cultivate enlightened opinions.

Yet all of his pontification on the right involves straw man illusions and a distorted rewrite of the state’s political history.

How many city or county Republican meetings has Schubart attended in the past decade? How many grassroots center-right lawyers does he know? What conversations, if any, has he had with mom-and-pop business owners, truck drivers, and working-class parents who don’t vote like him?

Only one who has no understanding of the law in Vermont would call it a “ragged remnant.” Visiting websites is no substitute for open-hearted conservations with Vermonters whose aspirations and concerns are ridiculed or ignored by the chatty classes. Rather than distorting to slander, as Schubart does, I urge the reader to employ the “man of steel” technique and consider the strongest form of right-wing positions.

1. Climate change denial is a straw man; the disagreement is over climate alarmism.

Although mild climate change has been demonstrated, there is no evidence of catastrophic anthropogenic climate events. Alarmist scenarios, such as the end of the world in 12 years, come from computer models that have failed to predict catastrophic events. It’s easy to postpone events, but to gain credibility, you need to accurately predict a climate catastrophe.

In addition, climate alarmism associates any human impact on nature with pollution. The right calls for improving livability and preserving the environment through development. Advances in technology allow us to minimize air, soil and water pollution as well as maximize weather safety, making the world a cleaner and safer place.

2. Every living US citizen should be able to vote once in an election.

While talking heads are obsessed with rights, they overlook the required other half: responsibilities. JFK, an independent-minded liberal, challenged us to ask what we could do for our country. Indeed, the right to vote comes with the responsibility to vote. Voting enables American citizens to elect our representatives in our constitutional republic. This is the only way through which hundreds of millions of citizens who have no public platform can make their voices heard. Safeguarding the vote of every American citizen informs the desire of the right to fortify this unique political mechanism.

3. Good defenders of Americans in difficulty.

Compare the biographies of lawmakers in states on the right versus those on the left. The Vermont right-wing represents the struggling middle and working class by advocating for prosperity. It doesn’t appeal to bureaucrats with cushy jobs tied to the state, persistent corporate leftovers or wealthy retirees and trust fund recipients, thus explaining the right-wing minority status. Why present the goal of uplifting American citizens as an anti-immigrant stance?

Vermont is not limited to the growing northwest region of the state. Southern Vermont (my home) and the Northeast Kingdom have languished for years. Don’t blame the weather or the geography. Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming are predominantly rural and cooler than Vermont, but these states have thriving economies and record immigration.

A web of anti-growth policies has caused systematic deindustrialization (stroll through Springfield and Windsor to get a glimpse of the devastation); driven out companies and created crony capitalist monopolies (eg BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont); and raised real estate prices so that there is a perpetual shortage of affordable homes and virtually no property for the non-rich. Six decades of left-wing governance in Vermont has paid off.

4. Prejudice knows no political party.

The former Head of Waterbury Public Library, a white woman, sent me an unsolicited email bragging about being an ally of people of color, while berating me for betraying my kind. She added that I am unfit to run for public office. Recently, a Bennington Banner editor called me the “dangerous” murderer of millions of people outside of Vermont. His rating is tantamount to a call for violence against me. Neither is a Republican.

The governor’s main opponent in 2020 ran with a candidate for lieutenant governor who looked into sordid defamation because I am not a “native of Vermont.” The governor’s agents were not far behind. The Republican National Committee member turned red in his face and verbally assaulted me for asking him to clarify a professional conflict of interest. It is wrong to paint large sections of the population with the same fanatic brushstroke. Damaged people can be found across the political spectrum. The accusation does not lie with whole groups, but with the individual who should be held accountable for his behavior.

5. Conservative politics are as old as the hills of Vermont.

The division among Republicans in Vermont is not a new phenomenon, and the fact that the left has used it to its advantage is nothing new either. Historically, the conservative, growth-friendly Proctor wing and the anti-Proctor wing (known as the Aiken-Gibson wing after WWII) were mired in internal strife. The latter was named after left-wing (“progressive”) politicians George Aiken, Ernest W. Gibson and Ernest W. Gibson Jr. Many Democrats in Vermont supported the Aiken-Gibson wing and used the system of open primaries to defeat the Proctor Wing candidates.

Members of the conservative Proctor wing played an indelible role in the formation of Vermont. To erase these formidable players in history to defend the left-wing Republicans of yesteryear as the only legitimate political right is biased revisionism.

The right in Vermont has never been a monolith and has always included conservative intellectual thought and popular advocacy. No amount of hateful harangue, scarecrow scare or aggression from GOP politicians left and left will ever delegitimize or uproot him from Green Mountain State.

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