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Willem Lange: Vermont Is Sort of Like the United States, Just More Pleasant

East Montpelier

It’s always a bit of a jolt when a Facebook post from a “friend” somewhere else in the United States displays a snarky poster describing attempts to curb gun violence as evidence of imminent fascism, or a wanted poster accusing President Obama of treason, or a painting of a Christmas tree twinkling with lights amid falling snow urging me to put Christ back into Christmas. These posts are almost invariably accompanied by the direction to “Share if you agree,” and often hint that if I decline to do that, both my patriotism and devotion to American values are suspect.

I shouldn’t be surprised by these posts; the news is full of discontents, challenges and arguments. But here in Vermont — and to a lesser extent, New Hampshire, where fist-shaking conservatism occasionally bubbles up into the majority — we inhabit a philosophical Shangri-La in a social environment that the late Rodney King would appreciate. He’s probably achieved a measure of immortality by once asking plaintively, “Why can’t we all just get along?” So it’s always a bit dissonant when someone rings the alarm bell calling us to fight the end of the world as we know it.

Vermont is often sneered at by Middle America as a bastion of liberalism — as if there were something wrong with that. Its legislature argues almost incessantly over the best ways to balance the need for financial resources against the protection of social justice and natural resources. Only a few grumpy old guys carp regularly that, whatever the solution, it won’t be any good.

Appointed committees are also straining to give birth to a state single-payer health care system. They may succeed; they may not. The important points to note are the willingness to try to improve on the current unfair and dysfunctional system, and the paucity of ideological motives or constraints among those engaged.

If there is any legislative action afoot in the state to restrict a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive freedom, I’m not aware of it. This may have something to do with the fact that Vermont has the highest percentage of women in the legislature (41 percent) of any state in the union. It also has a former governor, Madeleine Kunin, who speaks and writes more eloquently about women’s rights than anyone else around at the moment: Imagine, she says, the difference in the performance of the U.S. House of Representatives if half the members clustered around the speaker’s desk after a significant vote were women.

Then there’s the matter of religion. While, according to Gallup poll results announced in February 2013, Mississippi is the most religious state — 58 percent of its residents characterize themselves as “very religious” — Vermont came in as least religious, with only 19 percent checking the “very religious” box. New Hampshire was right behind, at 23 percent. I dare say most Americans have a knee-jerk negative reaction to those results, and write the state off as a haven of heathens, pagans and devotees of the Antichrist. Liberal secular humanists, too.

But more drivers here than anywhere else I can think of wave you out of your various traffic predicaments. (You can’t, however, blindly equate religiousness with traffic manners; the commonwealth of Massachusetts, also high among the heathen, seems to harbor an inordinate number of drivers bent on vehicular homicide.) When it comes to caring for our less fortunate citizens, we’re not doing too badly. Our free food shelves are active; and it’s possible to get a hot lunch in Montpelier, at least, five days a week at five different churches.

Our unemployment rate is relatively low compared with those of our heartland and southland brethren, and our vacation resort status is worth many millions of dollars. Most of all, we’re pretty small and tend to know each other, so problems get a hearing, which our independent investigative newspapers make sure of. I can’t think where it’s likely to go better.

Thus I suppose I should just delete or ignore the angry stuff that pops up daily on my computer. Sarah Palin, for example, is out with a new book (with which she’ll do a book tour) decrying society’s attacks on Christians and Christmas, plus offering a few recipes for Christmas treats in the Alaska tradition. I don’t think it’ll be a big seller in New England. Also, just this morning, came a poster of George W. Bush giving a double thumbs-up salute above the caption, “He may have had his faults, but at least this president loved America.” Then there’s the thinly veiled racism inherent in the questions and accusations about the current president’s legitimacy.

When I just can’t resist demonstrating now and then that Vermont has a two-way connection with the rest of America, I usually respond, “Hey! This is Vermont! We helped y’all lose the war almost 150 years ago; you lost the elections all by yourselves in 2004 (popular vote) and 2008 (popular and electoral); you lost the congressional vote on what you call Obamacare in 2010, and you lost the court challenge in 2012. It’s time you quit your grousing and started looking seriously for somebody who can beat Hillary or Elizabeth in 2016.” The specter of a liberal female president? Drives ’em nuts!

If Palin wants to focus on defeating secularism and the attack on traditional values during the holidays, she ought to show up and give her sermon during the stampede at a Midwestern big box store opening on a Thanksgiving morning.

Willem Lange’s column appears here on Wednesdays. He can be reached at will.lange@comcast.net.