Commentary

Betsy Dorminey: Vermont-style ‘crunchy conservatism’ is what the country craves

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Betsy Dorminey, of Enosburg Falls, who is an attorney, entrepreneur and hotelier, proprietor of the Quincy Hotel of Enosburg Falls. She serves as the Vermont state director of The Capitalist League.

As Biden savors his slim victory and prepares to “Occupy 1600 Pennsylvania” for the next four years there are lessons to be learned. Neither one of our polarized political parties won a mandate. Voters went both ways, giving the Democrats the presidency but awarding Republicans notable gains in the House. Most state governments stayed red even as the nation went blue. Florida went for Trump but also for an increase in the state minimum wage. California chose Biden, but rejected business-stifling regulations.

Why these seemingly contradictory results?

Because voters favor capitalism, but they want it to have a heart. 

Neither national party really gets it. Their conflicting visions explain, in part, the razor-thin electoral margins. Neither offered voters the combination of free-market capitalism with the social insurance most Americans crave.

An old pal of mine, whose latest book I’ve just finished reading (see below), counsels: “Capitalize with capitalists but socialize with socialists. They throw much better parties.”

Instead we were forced to choose between fusty Republicans, seemingly committed to Ebenezer-Scrooge-style selfishness; and wild-eyed Democrats insisting that we reject market economics and embrace economically suicidal crypto-Marxist schemes. That may reflect what activists in each party desire but it doesn’t suit the majority of voters whose tastes don’t run to such extremes.

A candidate who combined capitalism with generous social programs could and would offer the best of both. Impossible? Think again. 

Consider countries like Denmark and Sweden. Pristine capitalism — meaning private, not government, control of the means of production — conjoined with great health care and subsidized education. For everyone. These nations always score as the happiest countries in the world. 

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Are they happy because of the policy mix or do they embrace the mix because they are happy? Who knows? Who cares? They follow the recipe for equitable prosperity. The rich get rich, but the poor are richer, too.

It can happen here in America, too. In fact, it’s already emerging. Capitalism with a heart blooms in Vermont, where thrift and business coexist with social spending. 

As my “socialize with the socialists” pal, Capitalist League chairman Ralph Benko, explains in The Ten Commandments of Capitalism: The Secret Recipe for Equitable Prosperity, free markets and social insurance programs are natural partners, like pancakes and maple syrup. Capitalism makes possible the wealth required to pay for public services.

Vermont’s Republican governor Phil Scott just garnered a whopping 68.8% landslide victory in a deep “blue” state. His secret? This simple combination of free-market policies and socially-conscious public spending. Add his “tough love” approach to the pandemic, making Vermont’s infection and mortality rates among the lowest in America (and the world): Winner!

Scott opposed raising taxes, including property taxes. He pledged to veto state spending that grew faster than the state economy. He cut the tax on Social Security benefits and lowered state income tax rates across the board, not just for the top brackets. He lowered taxes on businesses for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. This is rock-ribbed Reaganite economic conservatism!

At the same time he supported workforce and economic development. He implemented measures to help businesses suffering from the pandemic. He helped out renters and landlords. He’s working to bring affordable high-speed internet to all Vermonters, a vital 21st century infrastructure project. And he’s moving Vermont toward universal health care, providing coverage for children and offering programs to all, viz., free and easy Covid testing. 

Vermont is by no means immune to poverty and its attendant woes. The state provides generous programs for those in need. Environmentalism?  We’re not called the Green Mountain State for nothing. Ever wonder why “conservation” and “conservatism” look so much alike? Vermont’s the poster child! And did I mention that Scott is an avid stock-car racer? There’s your NASCAR vote.

Let’s put a name to what Phil Scott represents. Pro business but with a side of crunchy granola social spending. Let’s call it “crunchy conservative,” or “crunchycon” for short. Capitalism at its enlightened best. Pro-business and pro-people, with smart social spending when it’s needed.

Voilà! The secret recipe for success at the ballot box. If either major party wants to move off the 50% mark nationally they might be wise to take a hard look at what they’re offering and change up the mix.

Socially-conscious capitalism works, in Scandinavia and in Vermont. As America’s greatest spiritually realized yogi (Berra) said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.” Capitalism with a heart works both in theory and practice.

Looking at the 2020 election returns from sea to shining sea, crunchy conservatism is just what Americans are yearning for.

So … let’s take a page from Scott’s playbook, and explore crunchy conservatism. Like the granola it’s named for, it’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s good for you.


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