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As Vermont Goes…So Might Have Gone The Nation
December 04, 2003
[Previously by Carl F. Horowitz: Immigration Policy Importing Slavery]
Howard Dean openly despises President Bush. That's part of his success in Democratic opinion polls: he does the best job of venting the party activists' feelings. However, should Dean capture the nomination, he'll have to run on more than spleen, appealing to a broad array of voters by pointing to achievements.
Much of Dean's ammunition could come from his record as governor of Vermont for more than 11 years—and the contrast between that state and Bush's Texas. Dean could well point out that Vermont has little in the way of crime, drug abuse, illiteracy and other social pathologies—certainly fewer than Bush's old border state.
Vermont is the state that Establishment "conservatives" love to hate—a symbol of cultural secession by the Left in a rustic, modestly prosperous setting. Mention Vermont to almost any Beltway Rightist, and instantly he will become a cut-rate P.J. O'Rourke, making smart aleck remarks about Birkenstocks, male ponytails, organic foods, Ben & Jerry's, and "visualizing whirled peas."
A prime example: Jonah Goldberg's October 13 National Review cover story. Goldberg describes the T-shirt of a young man he interviewed in a Burlington cafe as "faded puke green," and goes on about the "the massive influx of urban professional liberals who've taken advantage of Vermont's famous tolerance and don't-tread-on-me individualism and turned it into a whatever-floats-your-boat Epcot Center exhibit of Green Socialism." [The 'Flatlanders' and Their King: From Ethan Allen to Calvin Coolidge to Howard Dean . . . how sad., National Review, Oct 13, 2003, by Jonah Goldberg]
Goldberg quotes at length a Vermont author, Hal Goldman, who calls the liberal migration an invasion, a full-scale colonization.
Goldberg protests too much. Even assuming that progressives have made Vermont a political gentrification project, so what? Libertarians, through their newly founded Free State Project, recently selected neighboring New Hampshire for their own Great Experiment, setting a goal of attracting 20,000 free-market adherents to the state.
American history is filled with examples of state identities being forged by continental migration (and subsequent high birth rates). French-speaking Acadians came down from Canada and "invaded" Louisiana. The Mormons likewise "invaded" Utah; Brigham Young (a Vermont native, by the way) declared to his followers upon arrival, "This is the place." The native Ute Indians were not in a position to argue. Migration within the same country was not illegal, the last time I checked.
Of course, there are few experiences more exasperating than trying to reason with an unctuous middle-class leftist who pontificates about "Republicans" and "the rich" ruining America. Imagine a state where at least a third of the people bray like this.
But Goldberg's problem is that he's overly selective with facts. He sees in Vermont only what he wants to see—a surly, provincial peacenik leftism aching to go national.
However, the secret of Howard Dean's success is not Vermont's ideology but its location, location, location. Vermont doesn't happen to sit on the border of a Third World country eager to export its unhappy citizens. Instead, it's the place where left-wing fads go to die. Or least where upscale liberals go to raise goats. Here are just a few of Vermont's God-given advantages:
- It's not urbanized. Vermont is the only state in the Northeast without a natural seaport or harbor. And it's even more mountainous than New Hampshire. Those two realities go a long way in explaining why Vermont has no real cities. (Burlington hardly counts, with about 40,000 residents.) By virtue of its natural beauty, slowness and civilized northerness, Vermont seems equally an ideal incubator for what Rod Dreher, in his National Review cover story (September 30, 2002), dubbed "granola conservatism," a growing, small-is-beautiful, decentralist sensibility where educated whites, Left and Right, converge. Perhaps "flinty" Yankee self-reliance and left-hippie communalism aren't all that far apart.
- It's small, stable. Vermont's statewide population in 2000 was about 609,000—not much up from 378,000 in 1950 and 344,000 in 1900. In response to rumors of growth in the late 60s, the Vermont legislature in 1970 passed Act 250, which mandated strict environmental criteria for development proposals beyond a certain size. Vermont isn't a state amenable to activities that dramatically raise population—such as mass immigration. By contrast, New Hampshire's population had risen to 1,236,000 in 2000, more than double Vermont's. The Census Bureau, in fact, considers New Hampshire's urbanized southeast corner as part of the greater Boston area.
- It's got few immigrants. In 2000, Vermont's foreign-born population was a mere 25,629, about 4 percent of residents. That was up slightly from 17,271, or 3 percent of all residents, in 1990. The foreign-born portions of the U.S. population in 1990 was 8 percent, and by 2000 up to 11 percent. (For details, see Steve Camarota and Nora McArdle's recent Center for Immigration Studies paper, "Where Immigrants Live" which breaks down, state by state, Census figures on immigration.)
- …and its few immigrants are better than the average immigrant. Most of Vermont's immigrants came from developed lands, either Europe (36 percent) or Canada (32 percent) according to the 2000 census. In the U.S. overall, European immigrants accounted for only 16 percent of immigrants that year, Canadians a scant 2.7 percent.
All of this has made Howard Dean one lucky man. As governor he never had to worry about the kinds of fiscal, economic and social problems that have made running certain other states a near nightmare. Affirmative action, bilingual education, welfare dependency, ethnic gangs—these problems, which drive politics in California, New York or Texas, are distant rumors in the mountains of Vermont. Running Vermont is a piece of cake.
Had Gray Davis served as Vermont governor, he might be a leading presidential candidate today. Had Howard Dean headed California, where 8.8 million—more than a fourth—of all residents in 2000 were foreign-born, by now he'd be a political nonentity, the butt of Jay Leno's jokes.
Jonah Goldberg doesn't ignore this dimension of Vermont politics—instead, he turns it on its head. In taking note of Howard Dean's lack of presidential heft, he notes,
"Dean actually believes that Vermont—the second smallest state, with a population smaller than Baltimore's and whiter than Stockholm's, and with almost no industry or crime—is a model for the nation."
Is Goldberg somehow disappointed?
One would think that Vermont's low incidence of crime is as a good reason as any to move there. Between 1993 and 2002, Vermont witnessed all of 113 homicides—one third the number in a single year in Washington, D.C. (with roughly the same population).
And given that 96.8 percent of Vermont's population in 2000 was white (with only 0.5 percent black), well, maybe the state is whiter than Stockholm. But is Goldberg suggesting that Vermont is obliged to become as multiracial as all of America—75.1 percent white?
Vermont is the American future that might have happened.
Perhaps the truly appalling prospect for Goldberg and other Establishment "conservatives" is this: Vermont's low incidence of crime and other social pathologies might be not unrelated to its racial and ethnic composition.
Terrible thought. Best to banish it with stale jokes about aging hippies.
To which I say: Nonsense. Praise the Lord and pass the Chunky Monkey.
Carl F. Horowitz [email him] is a Washington-area policy researcher who specializes in immigration, labor, welfare and housing issues. He has a Ph.D. in urban planning and policy development and formerly worked for The Heritage Foundation and Investor's Business Daily.