Digger Tidbits: McClaughry “joke” goes awry; Video Shumlin presser outtakes on deer season and a bit of botany

Ethan Allen logo

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.

[youtube mzD_1kFmJ7M] [youtube GVW4Jhyhoeg]

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Anne Galloway

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  • Ann Raynolds

    Michael Moore’s comment after the shooting in Tucson and when the Sarah Palin’s map with tagets in gunsights was resurrected still resonates vividly with me. Moore said, “If a Mulsim in Detrot had put that map (Palin’s) out on the internet, think where he/she would be sitting today.” Of course…the FBI would have jailed that person! Be careful John McC. when we start with the “jokes” the actions are not far behind. Take it from a psychologist.

  • Anne, I hope you will no longer publish John McLaughry’s commentaries. He’s gone too far and doesn’t understand the seriousness of the threat.

  • Daniel Barlow

    This is a real low for Vermont politics.

    • Kate Paine

      Dan is correct…this a real low. Shame on John McClaughry.

  • Bradford Morgan

    I’m sure John thinks he’s quite a wit……and, of course, he’s half right.

  • walter carpenter

    It actually does not surprise me that McClaughry would have said this, joke or otherwise. It is the only thing that he has left, now that the policies he so constantly ridicules have turned up as empty as they were all along. I know it is a matter of free speech and all for running his columns, and Anne must wince every time they come at her, but he should be held responsible for his crass actions and words, like this example. You never know when some crazy could take them to heart and make a repeat of Tucson here in Vermont.

  • John Fairbanks

    Right-wing chatterboxes love to do this – aim threatening or violent language at a liberal/progressive and then claim, aw, c’mon guys, it was a joke. I wonder if McClaughry would think it’s so funny if somebody did that to him; for example, posting pictures of him with a target superimposed over his face and something like “this guy deserves to die” as a caption.

    Imagine the outrage from the Echo Chamber if some basket case who obtained a gun popped off Glenn Beck or Limbaugh or somebody. It would be open season on us.

    I grew up on the Right, in the lower Midwest about halfway between where McClaughry and Limbaugh were raised. I owned guns. I was an ROTC cadet and vice-president of my college Republicans. I’m more than familiar with the violent language that is common over there. (And the racism as well, I should add.) I also know that behind the joking is a deeply-embedded, John-Wayne-chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that narrows the gap between the jokes and tragedy.

    Make no mistake, the steady drumbeat of extreme rhetoric from the Right helps create an atmosphere of permission for violence. VT Digger has pointed out the case of scholar and poverty activist Frances Fox Piven, who now fears for her life as a result of Glenn Beck’s unhinged tirades. The Crooks and Liars blog has a disturbing map of incidents since 2008 – http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/violence-directed-liberal-and-govern.

    Let’s go out on a limb and grant McClaughry was “joking.” At the very least, in the current environment, that was incredibly stupid and potentially dangerous for James Moore.

  • John Fairbanks

    Let me add one point here, in light of Mr. Carpenter’s raising of the freedom-of-speech consideration. Speech that incites violence or panic does not, traditionally, enjoy the same level of protection as other speech.

    Harken back to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous observation in Schenck v. United States, that “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic . . . . The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

    “Joking,” if it is that, when spoken or written in an atmosphere where political violence – an example, I would submit, of “substantive evil” – is becoming increasingly common, is irresponsible.

  • Molly Murphy

    At least McLaughery wasn’t trying to raise money off dead people like Bernie did.

    • John Fairbanks

      Apparently, though, he wouldn’t mind creating more dead people.

  • Steven Farnham

    Ethan Allen was someone who served Vermont when all were well connected to the land. The EAI website lists ten people as its “staff & directors.” All are listed as academics, lawyers, and corporate puff men. Not one lists his profession as a farmer, nor any other trade involving real work for a living. All McClaughry ever talks about (if what he’s saying is at all comprehensible) is how we must grease the skids for business and the wealthy, and reduce taxes on same (which shifts the burden onto all the rest of us).

    I believe that if Ethan Allen were alive in the twenty-first century, he’d rebel against the elite now, as he rebelled against the elite of his day. If that were the case, one of the people you’d likely find in Ethan Allen’s “map of crosshairs” would be the VP of the organization which co-opted his name.