Ever notice how religious fanatics appear to only prosper in countries other than one's own?
A life spent viewing American TV news has taught yours truly that religious fanaticism tends toward success in countries with more deserts than ski slopes and a severe lack of McDonald's and Pizza Huts.
Or so we'd like to think.
Homegrown religious fanatics may be just as fanatical as their foreign, non-American counterparts, even if they look so American on TV. They wear shirts and ties and suit jackets like "normal" people. And they eat hot dogs and Big Macs, and even watch baseball.
Take our president, George W. Bush. Remember how, six years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Florida recount and installed a certain successful Vietnam War draft-dodger as president?
Many crossed their fingers and thought, "No big deal, One guy can't f**k up the whole country that badly, right? There's still a Congress!"
Live and learn, eh?
This week, as the U.S. Senate is finally debating legislation allowing federal funding of stem-cell research, Mr. Bush is demonstrating his commitment to the age-old political principle: "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Our president is steadfast in his determination to pay back the U.S. religious-fanatic block that helped elect him . . . twice. Despite the fact that a strong majority of Americans and members of Congress support stem-cell research, Mr. Bush swears he will veto the bill.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
Americans such as Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and millions more would benefit from expanded research into embryonic stem cells from cell lines that otherwise would be destroyed. The prospects for relieving human suffering from disease and paralysis are almost boundless, but Mr. Bush owes America's "Religious Right."
Sen. Specter, who is engaged in his own personal battle with Hodgkin's disease, stood on the Senate floor on Monday and compared America's current president to the popes and kings who opposed Columbus and locked up Galileo.
Three months ago the new Roman Catholic pope, Benedict XVI, held his first Vatican-sponsored religious conference since replacing Pope John Paul II, who died last year.
Question: What was the topic?
Are you sitting down?
Answer: the Crusades!
Apparently, the previous pope's public request back in 2000 for a "pardon" for the Crusades did not sit well with a number of Vatican higher-ups, including the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope. Pope Benedict's recent Crusades conference in Rome highlighted the "noble aim" of the Crusaders who fought and died to reclaim the "Holy Land" for Christianity!
Then, earlier this month, the Vatican's second big conference of the year, in Valencia, Spain, focused on -- you guessed it -- stem-cell research. What a coincidence!
The Pontifical Council for the Family argued that Catholic scientists who engaged in stem-cell research should be excommunicated. Council leader Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo compared stem-cell research to abortion. And in the eyes of the Vatican, abortion is the equivalent of murder.
Which brings us to the leading candidate for the Vermont Republican Party's nomination for U.S. Senator: Richard Tarrant of Colchester, Vermont, and Hillsboro Beach, Florida (where he owns a brand-new, $8.8 million oceanfront mansion).
On Monday morning, the day the U.S. Senate began the stem-cell research debate, Candidate Tarrant appeared as a guest on the "Charlie & Ernie Show" on 620 AM WVMT.
It's no secret that co-host Charlie Papillo, who does most of the talking, has a special fondness for Republican politicians, a fondness that at times approaches fan worship. For a rookie statewide candidate who has made not holding press conferences a key part of his campaign strategy, Richie Rich was on very friendly turf.
The stem-cell debate was all over the national news Monday morning. It was Mr. Papillo's last question. How would Tarrant vote?
"Would you stand with the president or against the president?" asked Charlie.
"Uh, well, I'm not avoiding this question with this answer," replied Tarrant, "but I have to go right into the office and get briefed on some issues, one of which is that [one], so I'm not going to answer right now simply 'cause I'm not ready."
OK, if not now, when?
The self-funded Republican U.S. Senate candidate with the very, very deep pockets told Charlie, "I'll call you back later. I'm not trying to avoid it."
Of course he isn't.
The fact is, Mr. Tarrant, a Roman Catholic, adheres to some of the Vatican's most conservative dictums. For example, his personal foundation, as we have reported, does not give grants to organizations that support abortion in any way, shape or form.
Tarrant's "non-answer" answer on WVMT, we'd suggest, was all about concealing the real Rich Tarrant from Vermont voters. Vermont's entire congressional delegation supports federal funding for stem-cell research. Most Vermonters do, too.
But Richie Rich does not want to let Vermont voters know just how far outside the state's mainstream he truly swims.
By the way, Ol' Bernardo voted for the stem-cell legislation when it passed the House last year. As the Senate -- where he hopes to serve next year -- took up the issue this week, Sanders reiterated his position in no uncertain terms.
"I strongly agree with the scientific community," said candidate Sanders, "that it's imperative we lift the ban on creating new stem-cell lines. If President Bush vetoes this legislation, as he has threatened, I will vote to override it. The President's political ideology should not stand in the way of major medical breakthroughs for millions of people."
What do you think?
Which U.S. Senate candidate would America's religious fanatics support?
It Gets Worse -- The above item was going to be the only one in this week's column devoted to coverage of Vermont's richest former-CEO-turned-political-hopeful, but then the phone rang Tuesday morning.
The gentleman on the other end of the line was Mike Dennehy, a senior political advisor to Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona. As everyone knows, Republican congressional candidate Martha Rainville has landed a "Big One," with McCain coming to Vermont on her behalf this coming Saturday.
Mr. Dennehy, however, wasn't calling about Martha Rainville, former Vermont National Guard general. He was calling about -- you guessed it -- Richard Tarrant!
You see, on Monday, the Tarrant Campaign put out an email release to press and supporters announcing:
Rich Tarrant will campaign with Sen. John McCain on Saturday. Please Join us: A Town Hall Meeting with Senator John McCain.
It gave the time as 1 p.m. Location, the College of St. Joseph in Rutland.
Funny, that's the exact same time and location as Marvelous Martha's Town Hall Meeting with McCain.
Tarrant's campaign event, said the McCain spokesman, "is certainly news to us." Mr. Dennehy said, "If Rich Tarrant was going to be at the event, obviously Sen. McCain would be happy to welcome him, but we're coming to Vermont on Saturday to campaign for Martha Rainville, and we're very excited about it."
"News to us"?
"It's been brought to our attention," Dennehy continued, "that the Tarrant Campaign, for some unexplained reason, has been promoting Sen. McCain's visit as a joint Town Hall Meeting with Candidate Rich Tarrant this weekend. In no uncertain terms the McCain aide told "Inside Track," "It's important to set the record straight -- it's not the case."
Sen. McCain, said Dennehy, "is very excited to come to Vermont to campaign for Martha Rainville, who has proven her leadership qualities in every step of her career.
"Inside Track" has learned that Mike Dennehy and Tarrant campaign guru Tim Lennon have known each other for a long time. They both worked on McCain's 2000 presidential campaign.
"Mike and I traveled the country together," said Lennon.
It sounded like the old friendship has grown remarkably frosty, we suggested.
Lennon told us that he had spoken to Dennehy via telephone about a role for Richie Rich in the McCain-Rainville event, but no agreement had been reached. Then came the Tarrant Campaign's Monday email that made it sound like a McCain-Tarrant event.
Mr. Lennon quickly went into damage-control mode. He said the Tarrant campaign "is sensitive to make sure that Martha gets the full bang for bringing John McCain up, and I can understand that."
"It was not our intent in any way," Lennon said, "to make it anything less than what it was. It is a Martha Rainville event, no doubt about it."
Unfortunately, Tarrant has already done his damage. His attempt to elbow his way into the McCain-Rainville spotlight will be a media distraction. Like it or not, Tarrant's me-first tactics will hurt the GOP cause.
Over at the Sanders for Senate campaign headquarters, folks were stunned. Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver, the former Marine from St. Albans, noted that political players on the same political team "usually just yell behind the scenes," rather than call the press up to complain.
"I'm speechless," said Weaver, "because the McCain people are obviously going above and beyond any kind of protocol in distancing themselves from the Tarrant people. It's unheard of!" said the startled Capitol Hill insider.
Despite having already spent more money on a political campaign than anyone in Vermont history, Rich Tarrant continues to demonstrate that his talent in building IDX Software into a $1.2 billion company does not transfer to politics in any way, shape or form.
"Maybe John McCain just wants to work with Bernie?" suggested Weaver.
Maybe he does. But one thing is absolutely certain: John McCain does not want to work with Rich Tarrant.
Glamour Girl? -- Interesting item on Marvelous Martha's weekly public schedule this week -- an interview with Glamour magazine, on the web: http://www.glamour.com.
There's an interesting poll highlighted on the home page asking readers to "Vote on your favorite naked actor here." Click on the link and you find more naked male movie actor butts than you can shake a stick at. Looks like Martha Rainville may be more of a party animal than anyone imagined?
Rainville campaign spokesman Brendan McKenna told "Inside Track" that Martha remained fully clothed for the interview. In fact, he said, it was conducted by telephone. Glamour is doing a story on women candidates in the 2006 election. According to McKenna, the interviewer did not get into "nitty-gritty issues," instead focusing on the topic of gender equity. Martha's best line, he said, was "What's good for women is good for America."
Brendan informed us Marvelous Martha is not a Glamour subscriber, "though her daughter does buy it."
P.S. Mr. McKenna also confirmed that the Rainville camp had dispatched a campaign staffer to Sunday evening's "Conversation on the Green" in Castleton, sponsored by Democratic candidate Peter Welch. Republican Mark Shepard, who faces Martha in the GOP primary, also participated.
That's interesting, because Ms. Rainville herself has declined to appear at the new Sunday evening "Conversations" among candidates, which was initiated by Welch.
Asked why the Rainville camp would send a spy rather than the candidate, Mr. McKenna replied, "At least we were not videotaping."
Sources say that, other than campaign staffers and political hangers-on, only about a dozen "normal" people attended the kick-off conversation.
Chamber Catch-Up -- Not the Burlington-based Lake Champlain Chamber, the one that's getting Tom Torti, the state's top environmental official, as its new president. Instead, we're talking about the Vermont State Chamber based in Montpelier. Check http://www.vtchamber.com.
It was brought to our attention over the weekend that the Vermont Chamber website was promoting an August 4 visit to Montpeculiar by "the 21st Century Paul Revere Ride 2006." It was listed on the Chamber's events calendar between the Champlain Valley Folk Festival and a Tommy Dorsey Orchestra appearance in Manchester.
Sounded innocent enough... until we checked into it at http://www.21stcenturypaulrevereride.us. Turns out the Paul Revere bikers are part of the latest, racist cause célèbre in America -- putting strong fences along the entire U.S.-Mexican border to keep out the damn illegal immigrants!
Why, you ask, would the Vermont Chamber of Commerce be promoting a politically partisan event sponsored by a bunch of out-of-state biker bigots?
After all, without hundreds -- some say as many as 2000 -- of those "illegal" immigrants, there wouldn't be enough farm workers to milk Vermont's sacred dairy herd.
Unfortunately, Vermont Chamber President Duane Marsh was not available Tuesday for comment. However, his executive assistant Laura Ibey was startled by our inquiry. Ms. Ibey said she thought she had already removed the link to the Paul Revere Biker event last Friday. She said Chris Fogg, vice president for travel and tourism at the state Chamber, had requested the removal after receiving complaints about it.
However, a check of the Chamber website on Tuesday afternoon revealed the Paul Revere link was still there. This time Ms. Ibey made sure, and it was gone within two minutes of our call.
Good decision, eh?
But why did the Chamber promote it in the first place?