If we had to come up with the lyrics to summarize Republican Scott Milne’s campaign against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, they would be contained in the late 1960s song by Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”
The song is a soulful lament drawn from a long-ago writer who, staring at the ocean, could see no horizon. The ocean in all its vastness just went on and on, prompting the question, is that all there is?
And so it is with Mr. Milne.
This week the Republican from North Pomfret invited reporters for a press conference at Burlington High School to ask that Mr. Leahy release any and all Senate records related to the federal EB-5 program.
The press conference was purposely staged just before Mr. Leahy was to hold a press conference of his own, at Burlington High School, where he announced a new federal grant for the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.
This is not the first time Mr. Milne has made the EB-5 program the center of his attack on Mr. Leahy. Which is the point: It’s the only thing. He has no other thoughts. He has no other questions of Mr. Leahy. He has no other issues.
Which brings us back to Ms. Lee’s song: “Is that all there is?”
Mr. Milne has made it clear Vermonters will not read any position papers that illuminate his stance on the issues the nation faces. He will not weigh in on issues dealing with the Middle East or Social Security or immigration reform. He will not hold press conferences to talk about global climate change or Supreme Court candidates. He will not distinguish himself with discussions about employment, the role of the Federal Reserve or trade pacts.
Playing the role of the candidate with no positions is what Mr. Milne does (And almost to great effect when he came within 2 percentage points of beating incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin two years ago.)
But Mr. Milne’s near win was more a reflection of the disaffection Vermonters were feeling toward their governor than the glow they were feeling for Mr. Milne’s vision of nothingness. He may be the only one who does not know that.
It’s as if Mr. Milne is mimicking Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie “Being There,” a film adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s book that satirizes the American political and media culture by taking Chance the gardener and making him into a presidential advisor based on little else other than his observation that “growth has its season. There are spring and summer, but there are also fall and winter. And then spring and summer again. As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all be well.”
The path Mr. Milne is taking is the thoughtless one. Thoughtless not in the sense of being unkind, but, literally without thought.
Maybe that’s the new path for politicians. If no positions are taken, then no faults can be assessed. Mr. Milne can sit back and disparage Mr. Leahy’s integrity but enjoy the position of being without a position on anything else. He’s a political cloud of sorts, something that sheds the rain on others but can’t be punched back.
The question is whether Mr. Milne wants that to be his image or whether he is capable of being anything else.
If this is “all there is” of Mr. Milne, it might do the political world good to see a 30-second TV spot of someone standing on the shoreline staring into the abyss, with the Peggy Lee soundtrack in the background. Type would roll across the screen asking for Mr. Milne’s thoughts on the issues.
And there would be nothing.
The song would roll on:
“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is.”
Emerson Lynn is the co-publisher of The Colchester Sun.