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November 5th, 2008

Barack Obama for President

“Never in living memory has an election been more critical than (this) — that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a presidency has — at levels of competence, vision and integrity — undermined the country and its ideals?”

That was the opening paragraph of The New Yorker’s endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for president on Oct. 13. It continued: “The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican Party — which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most that time — has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign … Meanwhile, the nominee, Sen. John McCain, (has) played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardor.”

That this presidential election is the most critical of our times is a debate for historians decades hence, but certainly a record 93 percent of the American populace, according to recent polls, say we are going in the wrong direction. And certainly these two major party candidates offer stark differences in style and in the policies they would pursue.

It is no surprise to readers of this paper that we enthusiastically endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president. We are impressed with his coolness under fire; his thoughtful and deliberate approach when addressing difficult issues; his skills as a campaigner, organizer and director of a massive undertaking these past 18 months that delivered a consistent message of hope that has inspired tens of millions of supporters. And he has done it with honor, integrity and clarity of purpose.

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Democrat Tom Costello for lieutenant governor

Democrat Tom Costello, a veteran legislator serving Rutland and Brattleboro, has an uphill battle in challenging incumbent Brian Dubie as the state’s lieutenant governor. But Costello’s pragmatic approach to the issues, experience in bipartisanship as a former legislator, and his ‘can-do attitude’ when it comes to reaching resolution on problems facing the state earn him this paper’s endorsement in an effort to unseat Dubie and bring new energy to the state’s second-highest post.

Costello is a likeable “Joe-Six-Pack” kind of guy who, even though he has a law degree, feels more comfortable talking in half sentences, tossing in a few choice words that come from his days as a Marine, and talking about practical measures to solve problems rather than whining about obstacles or politics. After six years of dodging the issues, his frankness is refreshing.

“Our present administration is not dealing specifically and effectively with these problems which are solvable,” Costello told the Independent last week in reference to re-licensing Vermont Yankee, financial hardships for Vermont’s seniors, and attracting new jobs to Vermont. “My experience is to work together in an aggressive way, but to work together and find a solution ... There is no reason why we can’t make these things happen. That’s been my experience.”

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September 11th

GOP: Just drink the Kool-Aid

Welcome to the Brave New World where author Aldous Huxley imagined in his 1932 satire that society would prefer to be kept uninformed and live lock-step in a soma-induced blissful oblivion. Well, close enough. The world is the political orbit of the Republican Party in which no one is allowed to speak critically of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the media, in particular, is not to pursue questions that seek to flesh out her positions or leadership style were she to be catapulted into the nation’s highest office.

Facts in this Republican dystopia (a negative utopia) don’t matter; what matters is that supporters swallow the party script. So, if Gov. Palin wants to keep repeating the lie that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere and rejects federal earmarks to states, then the party faithful should excuse the falsehood and just drink the soma-laced Kool-Aid.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, captured the mood perfectly in a Washington Post story on Tuesday when he told a Post reporter that the campaign was entering a period in which the dominant themes established in the campaign were more important than skirmishes over the facts. 

“The more The New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent,” Feehery said. “As long as those are out there, these little facts don’t really matter.”

Wow. Let’s think about that.

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A short-term bump versus more substantial worries

The short-term politics of picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice-president on the Republican ticket are more astute than many Democrats are acknowledging. The pick has, in a moment’s notice, galvanized the religious right, brought abortion back into the spotlight, and re-energized John McCain’s candidacy for president as a maverick.

But the longer-term impact of the choice will likely undermine the confidence the American public will have in McCain’s decision-making.

If Palin’s choice as his running mate is indicative of his recklessness and willingness to gamble the nation’s security for a bump in the polls, then the American public must face the possibility that we would have another president in the White House who would rule by gut instinct, hasty and uninformed decisions, and a reluctance to fully vet an issue before making important decisions.

In choosing Palin, McCain had his first face-to-face conversation with her the day before his announcement; a time that his staff was still researching information about her past and her qualifications. On the day before making her selection public, the McCain staff found out about her 17-year-old daughter being five months pregnant — not an issue in itself, but the fact that it was unknown until the day before more than suggests that the vetting process was rushed and uninformed at the very least. Yet, McCain maintains — as Bush so often did — that the facts are not as they seem; that the contradictory evidence is just the other side making a big deal out of nothing. (It also points out the weakness of those who, like Palin, support abstinence over birth control.)

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Bubba-hood vs. intellectualism

Two undercurrents of the Republican Convention jumped from the stage so blatantly they became the white elephant in the room: the irony that the Republicans were running as a party of change, and the championing of bubba-hood over intelligence as qualifications to lead this nation.

Sen. John McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the subsequent convention rhetoric used to promote her nomination and lash out at the Democrats with partisan rancor, showed just how far the G.O.P. has sunk in its election strategy.

In a country that used to seek “the best and the brightest” to lead our nation, Republicans recently have chosen candidates who have ranked at the bottom of their classes academically (Bush and McCain) and rely frequently on personal beliefs, rather than accepted facts or critical review of performance, to make decisions that are crucial for the nation’s future.

Bush’s appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as head of the Defense Department and his willingness to keep him in place in the face of abysmal failure and a ruinous foreign policy for the first five years of his presidency, for example, were disastrous. Similarly, his decision to ignore the evidence that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and instead invade Iraq, while taking the focus off of capturing Osama bin Laden and defeating the Taliban, has been costly and counterproductive.

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Choosing the winning storyline

If Americans believe that “we are a better country” than what we have seen for the past eight years, as Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech Thursday night, then that sense of hope will help propel him into the White House.

In what was an inspiring speech, Obama’s soaring rhetorical style encouraged Americans to dream again of a country that leads the world, not by military might, but by the force of its optimism and a promise of opportunity available to all:

“It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect,” Obama said. “It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

“Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves — protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology. Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

“That’s the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

“That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t just about hope. He also asked the American people to look critically at the failure of the Bush administration over this past eight years, and not excuse that performance.

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April 14th

Rock on, Bobby Dylan

“Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimming’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.”

The song was from the 1960s and Bob Dylan, who is widely noted as the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, was talking about the changes rocking the country during that era of protests, demonstrations, love-ins and generation gaps. He was right on target, saying in his music of the day what political and social analysts would discuss for the next few decades in retrospect.

“Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside

And it is ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.”

Dylan, who the Associated Press recently wrote “brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall,” received an honorary Pulitzer Prize last week for what the Pulitzer judges called his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

The break through for rock ’n roll was substantial. The AP noted that “the Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.”

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Of common sense & bridges

Middlebury and Weybridge selectmen were right to reject the state’s plan to close the Pulp Mill Bridge for up to a year for renovations before the town’s proposed Cross Street Bridge was built. The state’s plan would leave the town with just the Battell Bridge on Main Street to cross the Otter Creek — a move that would cripple the downtown’s retail district and frustrate residents who already face traffic jams there several times throughout each day.

It’s as if the town’s shortage of bridges across the Otter Creek has been lost on the state transportation agency, even though the town has been pressing its need for a second span for more than 50 years and has been hard at work on the Cross Street Bridge for the past several years.

Let’s hope the selectboard’s message to do the work on the Pulp Mill Bridge after the Cross Street Bridge is in use is taken to heart and honored.

As important is that the work on the Pulp Mill Bridge is dictated by common sense, not sabotaged by misguided — though well-intended — strictures. In this case, the Vermont Historic Covered Bridge Committee must sign off on any improvements or changes to the bridge, which is being renovated at a cost of over $2 million. The current bridge has structural design flaws, according to at least one expert, that should be corrected as part of the renovation. The state’s plan, however, preserves those design flaws (thus weakening the bridge) in order to maintain its historical integrity. Such stupidity, if the alleged flaws would weaken the bridge, would make a mockery of the state’s historical preservation efforts.

A proposal to correct the flaws and construct a nearby educational exhibit detailing the original architecture — and the design flaw that was corrected — is a reasonable suggestion (see story Page 1A) that we also hope will be honored.

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