Contemporary pundits criticizing the Iraqi quagmire often cite putative versions of the late U.S. Senator George Aiken's famous statement about the Vietnam War, such as: "Let's declare a victory and get the hell out." But none of their suggested quotes has been accurate, apparently. A documentary-in-progress might help clear up the confusion. Huntington independent filmmaker Rick Moulton will profile the progressive Vermont Republican, whose outlook was rock-ribbed rather than right-wing.
Moulton starts shooting next month on a modest $60,000 budget, most of it funded by the University of Vermont and Vermont Public Television. "It's going to be a biographical piece," he says. "I'll look at his entire legacy: rural electrification, agriculture, the Interstate and foreign relations."
Ideally, Moulton would like to get Helen Thomas on camera, because the veteran political columnist can share Aiken recollections from her days as a cub reporter in the nation's capital. He'll also interview Aiken's octogenarian widow Lola, and tap into a treasure trove of archival footage.
In addition, Moulton will benefit from the expertise of Samuel Hand, a UVM professor emeritus, and Stephen Terry, who was a legislative assistant to Aiken from 1969 to 1975. They compiled and edited The Essential Aiken: A Life in Public Service, published in 2004 by the University's Center for Research on Vermont.
The duo will act as consultants for the one-hour doc, which VPT plans to broadcast in November. "Then, hopefully, we can shop it out regionally and maybe nationally," Moulton explains.
At 57, he has been toiling in the cinematic trenches for more than three decades. Moulton graduated from the University of Denver Film School, studied at the London Film School, and operated his own studio in Colorado. After migrating east to the Green Mountain State in the early 1970s, he launched his home-based Keystone Productions.
Thematically, Moulton began with surfing movies in Hawaii and California, but eventually switched from the waves to the slopes. Legends of American Skiing was a 1982 project; Thrills and Spills in the North Country came out in 1998.
Moulton recently wrote and edited Legacy: Austria's Alpine Ambassadors, a doc directed by Ian Scully of Albuquerque about early 20th-century European downhill legends. It won a 2005 International Skiing Heritage Association award and will screen at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival on Memorial Day.
His Ski Moments in Time will play on RSN Cable, which airs in-house fare at resorts throughout North America. "It's got a dozen two-minute vignettes on what was happening in winter sports as far back as the 1920s," says Moulton.
The Aiken project has more in common with other Moulton efforts, particularly the nostalgic Vermont Memories segments he did for VPT in the mid-1990s.
Aiken, a Putney farmer elected governor for two terms in the late 1930s, was so popular that he only needed to spend $17.09 on his second campaign. During that gubernatorial reign, he reportedly broke the local monopolies of banks, railroads and other industries, while supporting such community-minded programs as agricultural co-ops and food stamps.
His Senate years, from 1941 through 1975, gave Aiken a greater international perspective. President John F. Kennedy sent him to Moscow in 1963 to participate in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signing. The peacenik Vermonter, who died in 1984, is remembered for his Lincolnesque integrity and plainspoken approach.
That 1966 Aiken speech about unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam, however, is a long, intellectual argument -- not quite as snappy as "get the hell out" -- that appeared in the Congressional Record.
Moulton has unearthed one of Aiken's even more astonishingly prescient comments, made in 1941: "Are we going to say to the common folk of America that we have to make worldwide markets for guns and oil and materials of war because a new crop of war millionaires is necessary for our well being, and that the sons of the common people must die in order to bring this about?"
Moulton sees his current film as an educational tool that chronicles bygone days of bipartisan statesmanship and commitment to grassroots democracy. "I hope it will communicate that George Aiken was fiscally conservative but socially responsible," he says. "He was a man of conscience, the kind of archetypal Republican that Jim Jeffords tried to embrace. In today's political landscape, that's really been lost."