I’m a regular reader of “The Ethan Allen Letter,” a newsletter published by none other than the founder of the institute of the same name, John McClaughry.
McClaughry is thought of in Vermont as an iconoclastic conservative. He has long been the standard-bearer for “free-market” thinking; he worked for President Ronald Reagan back in the day, not long before he established his log cabin beachhead in Kirby, Vt.
I’m familiar with McClaughry’s arguments; I frequently run his columns in VTDigger.org. But I was appalled a few weeks ago when I read his January 2011 newsletter. A few days later, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head by a lone gunman in Tucson where she was meeting with local citizens.
What does Giffords have to do with McClaughry? Not a whole lot, seemingly.
Giffords was attacked in an assassination attempt by a young man with mental problems; McClaughry is a writer with a devout conservative following in Vermont.
However, the two do intersect in the context of the general debate about civil discourse in America thanks to McClaughry’s latest newsletter.
Here’s how: Some news organizations and commentators postulated in the wake of Giffords’ shooting that the alleged assassination attempt by Jared Loughler, who posted anti-government rhetoric on a Web site, was influenced by the Arizona Tea Party’s war of words against Giffords in the General Election.
Sarah Palin, the Alaskan celeb who was John McCain’s running mate in the 2010 presidential election, included Gifford on a GOP hit list during the health care debate last year.
Enter McClaughry’s newsletter. He recently included what he calls a “joke” in the latest edition that was interpreted by the butt of that “joke” as a direct threat.
In the January edition of the publication, McClaughry published a “debate report” in his News & Views section. In the brief, which is a two-sentence paragraph, McClaughry writes that in a debate with Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer, two avid supporters of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, VPIRG “energy spokesman” James Moore “emphatically declared that the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant ‘hasn’t killed anyone YET.’”
In the next sentence, McClaughry quotes an anonymous source who “observed”: “I also haven’t killed anyone YET, but I am thinking of James Moore as a candidate.”
McClaughry characterized the statement as a “droll remark” from a source who watched the event. It was Moore who introduced the word “killed,” McClaughry said.
When I asked Moore about it earlier this week, he hadn’t seen the newsletter. But when he read the comment, he immediately called the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Montpelier Police Department.
“Most people agree that we should not tolerate violence in public discourse, much less promote it,” Moore wrote in an e-mail. “This kind of threat is really irresponsible and runs counter to Vermont’s proud history of community debate and discussion. The Ethan Allen Institute should know better than to spread this kind of dangerous rhetoric through its official newsletter.”
McClaughry’s response? “I think Paul Burns (VPIRG’s executive director) should lighten up.”
“It was a droll remark made after Moore introduced the subject of killing,” McClaughry elaborated.
Moore said it isn’t the first time VPIRG staff have been threatened, though not this personally in a long time.
He was somewhat relieved to hear that McClaughry said it was a joke, Moore said: “There are people out there who aren’t mentally stable.”
Bob Stannard, a lobbyist for Citizens Action Network, an anti-Yankee group, who has worked with Moore for three years, said McClaughry crossed “the line of civility here in Vermont.”
“It is unconscionable that John McClaughry would publish this quote with emphasis on YET,” Stannard wrote in an e-mail. “McClaughry has made a career of being a public figure. He knows the rules. He’s either getting old or is much more vicious than most people would be inclined to believe. At the very least he owes Mr. Moore an apology.”
In case you missed it, an instance of threatening speech also made the news this week in New York. Fox News anchor Glenn Beck labeled a poverty policy wonk, Frances Fox Piven, a City University of New York professor, an enemy of the Constitution. Anonymous death threats directed at Piven have appeared on the Fox News Web site, and she is afraid for her life, according to a story in The New York Times.
Video outtakes from the governor’s presser
At his weekly presser, Gov. Peter Shumlin made note of the fact that he relishes deer hunting and is a booster for Vermont’s biggest natural, God-given brand — maple syrup. (In two previous press conferences since he was installed as governor just two weeks ago, Shumlin made major policy announcements.)
In case you were wondering, Shumlin isn’t a big fan of an October muzzleloader season – and he supports the Fish and Wildlife Board’s to nix the idea (why let the colonial hunting types scare all the deer away before open season starts for everyone else?). The governor also loves the idea of McDonald’s offering real maple syrup (as opposed to the maple-flavored stuff). The Vermont Attorney General sued the fast-food franchise over falsely promoting a substance flavored with “the bark of some shrub,” as Shumlin put it. The restaurant’s franchises can offer oatmeal with the real deal soon.
Video outtakes from his presser follow.