by Peter Freyne
That’s Democratic U.S. House hopeful Peter Welch’s newly famous campaign-commercial pooch in the background - “Pepper.”
The mug in the foreground belongs to a behind-the-scenes "old dog" of Vermont politics - Luke Albee. Been catching Ol’ Luke this time of year - every two years - for two decades. By way of historical reference, that's back before email was part of daily life. Back in those "dark" days when only the “odd” dog owners bothered to bend over and pick up dog shit by hand. Now they almost all do. Never say progress is impossible. People are trainable!
Twenty years ago was the year of the Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy vs. Republican Richard Snelling mano-a-mano clash in Vermont's U.S. Senate showdown. Young Luke, son of the late, great, trailblazing UVM Psychology Prof. George Albee, was a cog in St. Patrick’s landslide machine. Along with Mary Beth Cahill the campaign manager, Deb Graham, the press secretary, and strategist John Podesta, the four jelled like no other campaign team we’ve ever seen. They had a lot of fun doing it, too. And that November 1986 night, St. Patrick blew away King Richard 63-34 percent.
Fast forward 20 years. Mary Beth Cahill’s gone on to hit the national spotlight as Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign manager. I know. Can’t win them all.
John Podesta ended up serving as President Bill Clinton’s last White House chief of staff. He then was president and founder of the Center for America Progress.
Deborah Graham, who became Deborah Kimbell, became the longtime communications director at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
And Luke Albee went on to become Sen. Leahy’s chief-of-staff on Capitol Hill for 11 fricken years. As the face in the photo shows, he’s aged gracefully on the Capitol Hill frontlines in the age of Monica Lewinsky, 9/11 and George W. Bush. But Luke, a father of four, has college tuitions ahead. Last year he departed Leahy’s staff to become one of those savvy Inside-the-Beltway political consultants.
Ol’ Luke, 47, was out sign-waving with other Ds on Dorset Street in South Burlington this morning when we talked to him on his cellphone.
“Voters have a chance to once again make a difference in the course of this nation,” said Albee. "The Peter Welch House race," he insists, "is as important as any race in this country.” Ol’ Luke says “thousands” of Vermonters have turned out this autumn to volunteer on the various campaigns up and down the ticket. Indeed, Democratic HQ on Burlington's Battery Street has always been jumping. Clearly, folks have gotten “pretty serious about changing the direction of the country,” he said.
And when it comes to Congress, noted the Dorset Street morning-rush, sign-waver, even a small state like Vermont gets to carry some very serious weight. The fact is, Vermont has as many seats in the United States Senate as California and New York do. And every single seat in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives is going to count big time, noted Albee. No wonder rookie Republican House-hopeful Marvelous Martha Rainville is running as fast as she can away from her chosen Republican Party and its leader - President George W. Bush. Never mentions their names anymore. Wow!
Funny. They were all very cozy together just three months ago. One’s just gotta do what one’s gotta due, eh? The end justifies the means?
And what’s ahead for the U.S. Senate when Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders moves over from the U.S. House in January?
“In the past,” said Ol’ Luke, “the Senate had characters, quirky members who each brought something different to the table. But lately," said Albee, “they’ve been blow-dried corporate creations. It’s fair to say, the U.S. Senate hasn’t seen anything like Bernie Sanders. Ever!”
And if there was any doubt of the importance of November 7, go to ABC News and watch and/or read what Vice President Dick Cheney actually said to George Stephanopoulos yesterday. And people say Saddam Hussein's got brass balls, eh?
Vietnam flashback time, folks!
I remember how peace demonstrators were painted by the liars-in-charge as supporting the communist Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese enemy. To be a "patriot" meant one had to support, without question, whatever flawed and dishonest policy the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon White Houses ordered. History tells us that the antiwar peace protesters actually were the only ones truly supporting the troops (and a lot of our troops started realizing that in 1968.)
Hearing V.P. Cheney Sunday was like deja vu all over again. Our vice president - who missed Vietnam with draft deferment after draft deferment - said some pretty amazing stuff. Trust you’re sitting down? Here’s the opening and the close. For the entire interview go here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You said this week that it's your belief that the insurgents are trying to influence the election. Does that mean that a Democratic victory is a victory for the insurgents?
CHENEY: Well, I think what they're trying to do, obviously, is execute on their strategy. And, if you think about their strategy, it isn't to defeat us militarily; they can't do that. But what they're betting on — Osama bin Laden talks about it — is that they can, in fact, ultimately break the will of the American people, that they can persuade enough Americans that we'll ultimately leave.
And the close....
STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got two years left -- about -- in office. What's the single most important thing you want to accomplish?
CHENEY: Well, I think it's going to continue to be a focus on the global war on terror. It's going to continue to emphasize what we're doing overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the other places we're operating. It'll be our continued efforts to protect the nation from another attack.
We've gone over five years now without another attack on the U.S. That's a major success story. It didn't happen by accident. It happened because we did, in fact, aggressively pursue things like the terrorist surveillance program, like questioning of detainees and the military commissions that we got through the Congress just recently.
All of those measures need to be continued and will be continued with this president, and offer us the best opportunity to be able to defend the country against further attack.
Scary. However, what kind of policy would one expect from successful Vietnam War draft dodgers? History has a way of repeating itself. It's a little too late in life for these guys to change, eh?