By Deborah Bucknam
After the American Revolution, less than a dozen Americans, alarmed about the impotence the Articles of Confederation, began communicating with each other by letter and in person about transforming the confederation of American states into a national American republic. Such an idea was a radical one, since Enlightenment political philosophers had forewarned that democracy was only viable in small states where the people could speak with their leaders face to face. Those communications were the beginning of the second American Revolution which, in a few years, resulted in the ratification of our American Constitution. At the time these conversations began, the vast majority of Americans, including most state leaders, were hostile to the idea of a national republic, but the bankruptcy of the Confederation, the strength of those Americans’ ideas and their perseverance resulted in the first national republic in the history of humankind.
A similar series of organic communications, on a lesser scale, is happening today among Vermont Republicans, made easier by electronic communication and social media. These conversations are attracting those who are weary of politicians’ disdain for ordinary Vermonters and their families, appalled by the erosion of foundational American principles, and concerned for the lack of respect for all Vermonters.
Vermont Republicanism is the ideal forum for these discussions. The Vermont Republican Party was founded by those who abhorred slavery and believed in the inalienable rights of every individual. Thousands of Vermont Republicans paid the ultimate price for their convictions. It is no coincidence that the Republican Party in Vermont remained unassailable for 100 years, and strong for nearly a half century thereafter. The “mystic chords of memory” of those ultimate sacrifices shaped the Vermont political landscape for well over a century.
These communication among Republicans center around renewing the Vermont ideals of individual and family over group or government. Based on my communications with these Vermont Republicans, here is what I see as an emerging consensus:
The Vermont Republican Party
Pride in Vermont Republican Party heritage. These Republicans know that the Vermont Republican party is the party of faith, family and freedom—faith in the good sense and kindly nature of our fellow Vermonters, faith that Vermont families know what is best for their children, and faith that every Vermonter has the inalienable right to freedom.
Dissent and discrimination
Respect towards every Vermonter, no matter what he or she believes. These Vermont Republicans welcome dissent and disagreement, and understand freewheeling and robust dialogue is the foundation of a vibrant democracy. They abhor silencing, shaming and boycotting dissenters. They believe that all Vermonters want what is best for our country, our state, our communities, our fellow Americans and our children. These Republicans believe we all only disagree on how to reach those goals; therefore we all must discuss with each other the best way to reach our common goals.
These Vermont Republicans believe that it is the individual, not what group or tribe the person belongs to, is of paramount importance.
They believe that public policy should be based on empirical evidence, not on rigid and unyielding ideology or pressure from the powerful and well connected.
They believe that all Vermonters, not just the powerful and well connected, must be able to influence the governance of our state.
Compassion for kids and families
Republicans in this group are either pro-life or pro-choice when it comes to abortion. But they all agree that unborn children deserve, if at all possible, a chance at life. They advocate policies that prevent unwanted pregnancies and help mothers who are contemplating abortion to be able to choose the option of life for their unborn children without fear or shame.
They believe that kids deserve to remain with the families they know and love, if at all possible. They support policies that facilitate family solutions to child abuse and neglect. They believe in supporting families in financial crisis and those families struggling with addiction.
They believe that a child deserves the kind of education which best fits his or her needs and talents. They believe children and their parents should be able to choose that education, because parents, not the government, know what is best for their kids.
They support policies that keep kids away from drugs, both legal and illegal, that affect their brain development.
All hands on deck against the opioid crisis
These Republicans believe that the opioid crisis is a cancer on Vermont families and on our state. The government’s focus on legalizing a mind altering drug and drug treatment for addicts rather than a robust prevention program, they believe, is disastrous for Vermont children and families.
They believe this crisis needs strong and sustained leadership from both parties to prevent this scourge from spreading.
Faith in individual Vermonters to do the right thing in their businesses and in their communities
These Vermont Republicans believe that the vast majority of Vermonters conduct themselves with honor and integrity when it comes to their business, and that Vermonters do not need to be “protected” by the jungle of regulations that impose unnecessary burdens on businesses, and tip the scale in favor of well-connected big business. They agree that regulation is necessary, but there are too many unnecessary regulations which impede our young people and new entrepreneurs from gaining a foothold here in Vermont.
Government reform and renewal
These Republicans recognize that Vermont’s bureaucracy is bloated and needs reform. Even though Vermont has nearly twice the number of government employees per capita as New Hampshire, the system works poorly for Vermonters. Although the state is small, it is nearly impossible to reach anyone in state government directly by phone. And, in this age of digital communications, it is actually harder to obtain needed help from Vermont government than in the past. These Republicans believe a robust review and overhaul of state government operations is badly needed.
These Republicans believe that all politicians and bureaucrats need to be held accountable, no matter what party.
War on the poor and middle class
These Republicans agree with Democrats and Progressives that we need to bring our children home permanently to Vermont so our beloved state can grow and prosper. These Republicans believe that the policies enacted by Democrats and Progressives do just the opposite, and amount to a war on the poor and middle class. Fostering individual enterprise and achievement by allowing Vermonters more freedom, they believe, is the avenue to achieving our common goal.
These are exciting times, with intellectual ferment and spirited discussions going on among Vermont Republicans. It is the beginning of a rebirth in the Vermont Republican Party, and ultimately, of Vermont itself.
Deborah Bucknam is a St. Johnsbury-based attorney and former Republican candidate for state attorney general.