Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is trying to regain a little respect. The candidate who ran one of the most misguided, milquetoast presidential campaigns in history stopped by the Old Labor Hall in Barre Saturday evening. Big John keynoted a raucous Vermont Democratic Party fundraiser. And he got what he came for -- the million-dollar photo on the press wires holding hands with Sen. Patrick Leahy and Senator-in-waiting Bernie Sanders.
It was another successful small step on the 2004 presidential loser's road to recovery, and a possible second shot at the White House in 2008.
Despite his heroism under fire in the Vietnam War, it was painfully clear during last year's presidential race that Kerry never really learned the lesson of Vietnam: Governments lie. His vote in October 2002, handing President George W. Bush a free pass to invade Iraq, cemented Kerry's feet in political stone. It was the vote that led to the infamous Kerry line, highlighted in Bush campaign TV spots, "Well, I did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq war] before I voted against it."
So on Saturday, at the pre-rally presser at Sean & Nora's Restaurant, we just had to ask Big John whether he and the other Democrats who backed Bush's invasion of Iraq had let down the American people by abdicating their responsibility to be a true "opposition" party.
"There's enough blame to go around if you want to cast it," replied Kerry, eyeball-to-eyeball, "and I'll accept my share of it. But I'll tell you this, none of us are prepared to continue to see these kinds of miscalculations and misjudgments applied to the lives of our young soldiers and to the interest of our security."
Better late than never, eh?
Of course, we couldn't help but notice that sitting quietly next to Kerry was Vermont's own, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Along with Sen. Jim Jeffords and Rep. Bernie Sanders, Leahy voted against the Iraq war resolution that Kerry embraced. Unlike Big John, none of Vermont crew had their eyes on the presidency. Maybe that's why they could see clearly, while Kerry suddenly contracted glaucoma.
Well, we're at 2056 American soldiers dead -- and counting -- and our nation's reputation is at an all-time international low. It's a good time to take a moment to reflect on the consequences of poor vision.
Groucho's Farewell -- Kerry got great coverage in the local press, but if "news" is what's new and unexpected, the top story from the Barre rally was completely overlooked. The headlines should have been: "Democratic Chairman Stuns Faithful with Addiction Revelation."
The show began with Peter Mallary of Bradford at the mike. Mallary had just completed his term as party chairman, replaced that afternoon by Ian Carleton of Burlington. As the big crowd hushed, Mallary got extremely personal.
"As I mulled about what I might say today as I go out the door," said Mallary, "I was reminded of the immortal words of Groucho Marx: 'Hello, I must be going.'"
The "hello," said Peter, was demanded by his recent return from what he called "two months of personal leave."
"I've spent the last two months with a bunch of addicts and alcoholics -- all people struggling with the disease of addiction, some winning, some certainly losing," said Peter. "Simply put, they are among the most remarkable people I have ever known."
He said what? Everyone was caught off-guard, everyone holding their breath.
"Suffice it to say," continued Mallary, "that while I may not score too high on the courage meter, I found I had some common ground with these folks. They taught me powerful life lessons. They made me stronger and wiser, and I thank them for that."
Whew! That explained reports of Mallary missing in action the last few months. Rumors of personal problems had been circulating among insiders, but no one imagined anything quite like this.
"Sorry for being so cheerful," quipped Peter the Brave as the hushed crowd finally exhaled with a little laugh.
Ah, reality. What a concept!
We all have our secret crutches and addictions, and most of the time we're pretty darn good at keeping them well out of public view.
But Saturday night in Barre, Vermonter Peter Mallary tore down his curtain of make-believe with a personal profile in courage that few who witnessed it will ever forget.
P.S. Censored? As for no mention in the local press of Chairman Mallary's surprise announcement, one has to wonder: If Republican Party Chairman Jim Barnett had made a similar public confession of residential drug treatment, would it, too, have gone unreported?
GOP Dinner -- As Kerry finished his speech at the Labor Hall and many Democrats swarmed close to personally touch the Big Loser, yours truly dashed out a side door, hopped in the gas-guzzler and headed up the superslab for the Sheraton Burlington.
Got there just in time to hear Granite State U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu lull more than 300 well-dressed Republicans at the fundraiser into a silent stupor. In contrast to the Democratic foot-stomping in Barre, Republicans dined by candlelight. Suits or jackets and ties on the boys, evening wear on the gals. Some very nice perfume, too.
One sign of where the "power" really is in Vermont was the presence at the Republican fête of lobbyists and management from the state's electric power industry, including CVPS, GMP and the boys from Brattleboro -- Entergy Vermont Yankee. Does VY's Brian Cosgrove look great in a bow tie, or what?
It's not hard to understand why they chose Burlington over Barre. They know who's in charge of Vermont.
And, oh, yes, it was great to get such a warm welcome from so many Republicans. Word of yours truly's defense of GOP Chairman Jim Barnett on "Vermont This Week" the previous evening had apparently been widely circulated.
Hey, just calling 'em as we see 'em.
Democrats Blow the Call -- A political bomb blew up in the thrower's hand last week. We're referring to Jon Copans' sizzling press release accusing Republican Gov. Jim Douglas of "using taxpayer money" to "import a culture of corruption into Vermont."
Mr. Copans is the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. His release came as part of a recent, unusual flurry of hard-hitting shots at our beloved Gov. Scissorhands.
Copans jumped on Douglas for hiring a Washington consulting firm with "deep Republican ties" to help attract business to Vermont. Specifically, Copans said the DCI Group LLC's "ties" included links to "Tom DeLay, George W. Bush and the phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire."
Hot stuff, eh?
How could the state's longest-serving, best-liked, state-government career politician be so stupid?
He wasn't. Copans was.
The Douglas administration actually signed the contract with New York-based Development Counselors International (DCI) -- http://www.dc-intl.com. It's a reputable firm, apparently quite good at what it does, i.e., promote "places" for business to locate. Two decades ago, Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin also tapped DCI's talent. All the Democrat attack dog had to do was Google it!
Over at GOP headquarters, Mad Dog Jim Barnett thought Christmas had come early! He couldn't believe the gift Democratic HQ had just dropped in his lap.
The following morning at 11:24, Mad Dog issued a stinging response, charging the Dems had sunk to "an all-time political low" and were "spreading false information about Gov. Douglas."
He had a point.
Just 44 minutes later, Copans issued a retraction and apology. "It now turns out," wrote Jon, "that I had the wrong out-of-state consultants. In light of this new information, please retract yesterday's press release. I apologize to all members of Vermont's press corps for this mistake, as well as to the Douglas administration."
End of story?
Not quite. You see, Chairman Barnett seized upon the fact that Tuck Rainwater, campaign manager for gubernatorial wannabe Scudder Parker, admitted to the Asssociated Press he had tipped off both Copans and an unidentified reporter about a possible problem with the DCI contract. Meanwhile, Copans told the A.P. he learned of it from "unnamed Democratic legislators."
Interesting. You'd think they'd get their stories to match, eh?
That's why Mad Dog wants an apology not just from Copans, but from Scooter, er, Scudder Parker, too.
"Democrats need to come clean about which Democrat legislators were the source of these false allegations, and Scudder Parker needs to take appropriate steps to demonstrate his regret -- if there is any -- of his campaign's involvement in this sad incident," said Barnett.
In Washington, the Dems have decided to finally make an issue of the War in Iraq and the lies that got us there. Unfortunately, it took awhile, since so many Dems, including Sen. John Kerry, helped spread them.
Out in the hinterlands, that offensive is echoed by a strategy designed to cement all Republican incumbents to our unpopular president. Copans' particularly reckless attack on Gov. Jim Douglas had a Washington, D.C., feel to it. "Corruption" is not a word to be tossed about lightly in the Green Mountains. You better have the damn evidence.
Instead of wounding Douglas, the Democratic Party's credibility took a big hit on this one.
Tarrant Talks -- Not to yours truly, but to Mark Johnson Monday on WDEV. And Mr. Johnson asked U.S. Senate candidate Rich Tarrant some very direct questions about his past performance as a Fletcher Allen Health Care trustee. Richie served on the Finance Committee while the biggest criminal financial scandal in Vermont history was being orchestrated under his nose.
Specifically, Johnson asked about the Free Press op-ed Tarrant authored in March 2003 -- a month after he resigned from the Fletcher Allen board, and well into the criminal investigation. Tarrant wrote, "No one can justly accuse Fletcher Allen of hiding the true cost of the Renaissance Project."
It was a little like claiming Saddam Hussein had WMDs.
Today, everybody knows Fletcher Allen did hide the true cost. Former President Bill Boettcher is in jail. Two others copped plea deals, avoiding prison, and one more former management type awaits trial.
Johnson asked Tarrant how he could have been so out of touch when he wrote his op-ed. Boettcher had been sacked months earlier. The investigation was in high gear. "Don't you read the newspapers?" asked the talk-show host.
"I don't automatically take what's in the newspapers as accurate," replied the U.S. Senate hopeful, "but that doesn't mean they're wrong . . . The accounts in the newspapers didn't sway me into believing that what had gone on did go on. It was when I finally got the real information, the hard facts, from the U.S. Attorney that I said, 'Whoa!'"
Better late than never, eh?
As we reported last June, Tarrant signed a special "declaration" that was placed in Boettcher's court file. After viewing documents provided by the prosecutor, Tarrant wrote, "Based on this evidence, I would not now say that 'No one can justly accuse Fletcher Allen of hiding the true costs of the project.'"
Johnson asked why he had been asked by the U.S. Attorney to write such a document for the court file.
"I don't know why they asked me to do that," replied Tarrant.
So we asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Van de Graaf why. The prosecutor told "Inside Track" the reason was Tarrant's erroneous op-ed in the Freeps. Defendant Boettcher, said Van de Graaf, raised the op-ed in his sentencing memo as a way to say, "This was no big deal."
But it was a big deal -- a $200 million big deal.
Thus, the feds got Tarrant to officially refute all of the erroneous, stupid allegations he made in his Burlington Free Press piece.
Consultant Affliction? -- Earlier, as we tuned in, Tarrant was responding to a question about when he's going to get his website up. A caller noted a Google search currently brings up "negative" articles by the likes of David Sirota -- http://www.davidsirota.com -- and yours truly.
Tarrant told listeners the website will be up soon. "I don't think you'll see things specifically trying to refute what somebody like Peter Freyne says. You know that stuff is going to happen, but if it's substantial we would refute it."
Hello! Earth to Starship Tarrant? Do you read me, over?
We emailed Richie and his out-of-state campaign manager seeking an explanation.
Unfortunately, once again, no response from Tarrant Land. Political strategy, eh? Don't talk to "Inside Track?" Afraid of . . . what? Telling the truth?
We don't blame Richie for his campaign's press policy. He's playing in a brand-new sport, and he's paying expert advisors big bucks to tell him which Vermont journalists he should talk to and which he should avoid. Great.
Look, we've always liked Richie Tarrant, the nicest, most down-to-earth super-rich person we've ever known. And the two of us have previously gotten along fine, kidding one another like the New York metro-area, nun-educated, Christian Brother-beaten, first-generation, Irish-American kids we are. We both remember well our "turn-off-the-lights" homes of the 1950s, run by parents who were survivors of the Great Depression.
Sure, Richie Tarrant is rich today, but his truly is a rags-to-riches story. An Irish-American success story the likes of which would have St. Patrick himself buying a round of pints!
Tarrant's only prayer is to censor the professional out-of-state advice and let "Himself" be himself.
Last Call -- On Tuesday, the infamous Swift Boat Veterans group that slimed Kerry in 2004 declared that Independent Bernie Sanders is in its sights.
Quite the feather in Ol' Bernardo's cap, eh? Can Pat Robertson be far behind?
With friends like this, Ol' Rags-to-Riches Tarrant doesn't need enemies.