Since so many people seem to think Howard Dean would make a great president, I wonder if they might be willing to vote for the county commissioner of Dekalb, Ga., instead? How about the guy or gal who administers Jefferson County, Ala.? Or Hidalgo, Texas?
All of these places have bigger populations than Vermont. They - and dozens of other counties - are not only bigger, but they're more diverse, more dynamic economically and culturally and, in many ways, more difficult to govern than the idyllic Green Mountain State. Indeed, after visiting the state for a recent article for National Review, it seems to me an indisputable proposition that the mayor of Baltimore has a much more difficult job description than the governor of Vermont.
When confronted with the fact that Vermont is teeny-weeny, Howard Dean typically replies that Bill Clinton was governor of a small state, too, when he was elected president. That's true, but Arkansas is still some four times more populous and far more economically and ethnically diverse than Vermont. Arkansas - a border state in the American Southwest, close to the demographic and political center of the country - also has something Vermont doesn't: a fairly representative political culture.
Vermont, on the other hand, has opted for self-imposed exile on the political margins of the nation. How so? Well, for the past 30 years, wealthy liberals, mainly from New York and Massachusetts, have moved to Vermont while the flinty traditional Vermonters of yore have moved out or been politically marginalized. These immigrants are called Flatlanders by the traditional denizens of the state. And the Flatlanders are bent on making Vermont an Epcot Center exhibit of Green socialism.
It is the political tastes of these neo-Vermonters, far more than Jim Jeffords' principles or conscience, that explain why the senator decided to bolt the Republican Party.
But a better illustration of Vermont's transformation is the state's Act 250, an environmental law passed in 1970. Its supporters claim it saved Vermont from vaguely defined ecological doom. Its critics say it's an attempt to make the state hospitable to limousine liberals from New York and trendy couples whose idea of farming is renovating a barn so they can appear in Architectural Digest.