A news item on the Fox website recently caught my eye. It was about a March 21st incident outside a store in Plainfield, Vermont, where a group of teenage male antiwar protesters threw stones at a uniformed female member of the Vermont National Guard, elements of which are currently deployed in the Persian Gulf. There was also a gratuitous dose of clichéd invective ("murderer", "baby killer"), but the unidentified sergeant was unhurt. She had first encountered the peace-thugs while assigned to security duty at an antiwar demonstration earlier in the day in the nearby state capital of Montpelier.
"We are a very tolerant state and people in the military also expect to be treated with the same courtesy and respect that we show to others," Lieutenant Scott Stirewalt, director of security for the Vermont National Guard, told WCAX-TV news in Burlington when discussing the incident. Nevertheless, the State National Guard has been instructed not to wear their uniforms in public when off duty.
When contacted by Fox for comment, Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy called the episode "disturbing," then deftly sought the middle ground, praising the Guard for its work in the New York area immediately following 9-11, and for service during a nasty 1998 Vermont ice storm. But not a negative word for the stone-tossing peaceniks in question. Though Fox didn't say so, former Governor Howard Dean was probably unavailable for comment, because his presidential aspirations have him crisscrossing the country as of late, while he attacks George Bush's Iraq war policy, and some of his fellow Democratic competitors for supporting it.
From 1986 to 1990 I lived in Waterbury, Vermont, while employed at Vermont State Hospital. Coming from upstate New York, I was no stranger to the torments of liberalism in the Empire State as seen during Mario Cuomo's tenure as governor, but there was a touch of the loony-surreal to life in leftwing Vermont. It was as if Berkeley, Cambridge, Mass., Boulder and Santa Monica had sent cadres of colonizers to take over all those Norman Rockwell-like white-steepled Vermont villages with dumb cows chewing their cud in emerald pastures. Many of those quaint villages had "sister cities" somewhere in the Communist world. Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua were very popular. Democratic Governor Madeline Kunin seemed to lie awake nights worrying about greenhouse gases and fluorocarbons, and considered green legislation outlawing air conditioning, using the rationale that Vermont lacked the torrid summers of Georgia or Texas.
Up through the 1950s the Green Mountain State (like its neighbor New Hampshire) was a northeastern conservative redoubt where urban liberals only summered or skied. The flinty local Yankee farmer of the time was best personified by Republican Senator George Aiken, legendary "FOI" (Friend of Ike). In 1962, a Democrat, Phil Hoff, got elected governor, and -- like the fast runs at Stowe and Killington -- it's been downhill ever since. Today the GOP in Vermont enjoys severe minority status akin to its current position in California.
Starting in the 1960s there was a demographic shift as eastern liberals arrived. Back-to-nature- hippies started rural communes, and then stuck around. The ski bums and summer folks moved in or retired, and brought their liberal politics with them. By the '80s the GOP, and with it that ingrained Yankee conservatism, was essentially dead. The small town Vermont of my residence was one of anti-nuke and anti-contra demonstrations, a vocal gay rights movement (that has recently made gains with its "civil unions" agenda), and Ben and Jerry's confectionary venture communism. Oh, and Bernard Sanders. How could I forget the guy that everybody in Vermont simply calls "Bernie".
The Brooklyn-born ("Good evening, my fellow VAMONTUZ") Sanders, the only Independent in the U.S. House of Representatives and one whose socialist sympathies are a matter of record, moved to the state in 1964, got involved in local politics, and in 1981 was elected to the first of four terms as mayor of Burlington. His election to Vermont's only U.S. House seat in 1990 completed the portrait of Vermont as a rural left bastion.
One memory that comes back to me from my life in Vermont was the yearly celebration of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. Every July near the anniversary the local loony left would come out in force for a parade down State St. in Montpelier, passing in front of the Vermont Statehouse with its massive granite statue of Vermont Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen looking on. There were flags (none American) and banners, and all the silly street theater associated with the costumed public histrionics of the left. A group from Glover, Vermont, called the "Bread and Puppet Theater" provided much of it. And as I recall, Montpelier was home to a chapter of Citizens in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). Burlington, the state's largest city and home to the University of Vermont (UVM), was also a public political rally hotspot, with Bernie Sanders marching at the head of every parade, and Ben and Jerry passing out hundreds of free "Peace Pops" from the back of a refrigerator truck afterwards.
Another memory was of a bluegrass concert on the village green in Waterbury, where I saw a musician proudly display a lapel pin bearing the likeness of Vladimir Lenin that someone had given him during a sister city cultural exchange tour the band had participated in in the Soviet Union. As this "useful idiot" told the crowd of their wonderful experiences in the Workers Paradise, it became apparent to me that he had no idea who Lenin actually was.
So, in the end, that Fox news item didn't surprise me. The left in Vermont hasn't lost any of its mindlessness. Though there is one ray of hope. Vermont -- like other prominent liberal states -- has not been remiss in enacting hate crime legislation in the last decade. In fact, assaulting or abusing a member of the military while they are in uniform is classified as a hate crime in the Green Mountain State, and carries with it a possible five-year prison term.
But will Vermont's liberal judiciary take that seriously? I doubt it. Will that long-dormant Yankee conservatism reassert itself and insist on justice for a woman bound to serve her country no matter what? We'll see. In the meantime, in public, she must wear civilian clothes.
Bill Croke is a writer in Cody, Wyoming.