By Joe Bageant
A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days of hard traveling back and
forth across Connecticut’s Second Congressional District. The Second
District is not the Connecticut where Paul Newman lives and Katherine
Hepburn is buried. The one with the marvelously tasteful old homes set
against magnificent Yankee New England seascapes. It’s the one where —
although quite pretty in its own right, with its small villages and
winding roads — the mills are closed, the housing bubble has popped
and everyone fears what comes next. It is a place where good union men
still stick together as best they can in the face of globalization, the
sub prime collapse and a two-party system whose millionaire players are
more married to the game than to the unheralded people who build their
homes and make their world function every day.
Joe and Todd at WHUS
One of those good men is union carpenter Todd Vachon. Todd is a Socialist candidate trying to collect 3000 signatures to get on the ballot for the second district, and assisting Todd was the reason I was in the birth state of George W. Bush. This meant visiting the colleges, radio stations and lefty gathering spots such as Wrench in the Works in Willimantic, one of the sixty four towns in which Vachon has to collect signatures. In testimony to the rigged system the Dems and GOP have in place to keep any third party candidates or independents out, if Vachon is successful, he mist then drive to each of them individually again to turn the signature sheets in to the town clerks. At sixty five dollars a pop to fill his small car’s gas tank, his campaign manager Andy Blood and I figured that each signature costs a few bucks apiece as we pumped gas and ran his credit card up. We can add that to the $60,000 student loan Todd is paying off and call it all the “cost of opportunity,” like big business does. Only somehow the result is not the quite the same for a working guy.
To make matters more difficult, Todd is running on a platform sure to ruin America: Universal not-for-profit health care (he supports HR676); High investment in renewable energy; Expanding public transportation; Campaign finance reform; A living wage; Women’s right to choose; Bringing the troops home.
In other words, the entire rotten commie bill of goods the Democrats are forced to hint at when their ass is in a jam, the just and morally right things they will never deliver on the coldest day in hell.
Connecticut’s Second Congressional district covers half the state and has dozens of blue collar towns and studded here and there with wealthy Republican bastions such as old Saybrook and Mystic, places working people drive by, sometimes stopping to pay five bucks to ogle such mansions as the Gillette Castle, a massive piece of Kitsch built by William Gillette, wealthy turn of the century actor who entertained the likes of Calvin Coolidge there. Still, the district is solidly Democratic, and even some Republicans seem displeased with their native son down in Crawford regarding the war, though they love his economic policy.
For many decades working Americans have said that what we need in this country are some politicians who’ve actually worked for a living, not more lawyers in office, plus some ordinary common sense. A little compassion, something lawyers are not particularly noted for, might be nice too. But after the last blast of “conservative compassion,” we may not be able to take another compassion hit.
You’d think that simply allowing Vachon, socialist or not (hell, they elected Jasper McLevy, a Socialist, mayor of Bridgeport didn’t they?) a crack at throwing his hat into the ring would be a no-brainer in one of the last districts with some remaining unions and a liberal history. But in these wary times, it’s no cake walk to get signatures supporting a citizen’s right to even get on the ballot, even though the signature implies no political support other than the right of an ordinary citizen to run for office.
Todd knows what he’s up against, and knows the likelihood of ever getting elected, or even on the ballot. But he’s out there anyway because he acts on his beliefs and accepts the risk and debt and stress on his wife and two children that come with the commitment. And when I learned of his campaign, I knew that if I were not there for him as best could be, then I don’t have ball one and should forever keep my mouth shut about liberty, change and action toward those ends.
Which is how I found myself spending a few nights on the couch of Todd’s parents, it was the most moving part of the trip. Todd’s 55-year-old dad, another union carpenter and proud of it, is behind Todd all the way. Over a lifetime of hard work both at home and on the job, he has built a house with his own hands, blasted hundreds of tons of rock, cut and set it in winding retainer walls, pathways and generally built a testimony to the dignity of working life in America and the love of one’s family.
(Click thumbnail image of flags to enlarge.)
Flying over the family home are three tattered flags — the American flag, the big blue marble planet earth flag, and the missing POW flag. Testimony to the belief that we can still be a worthwhile nation, the earth’s sanctity and memory across generations. The home itself is pretty much a play world for the grandchildren, Todd’s kids, Marley and Toliver, whom grandma dotes upon while Todd and his dad play music together in the combination shop and soundproof jam room during those hours he is not busting his ass on some construction job. Every day there I could not help but remind myself, a working man’s life was meant to be as satisfying as this household’s.
Regardless of how his campaign goes, Todd is a fortunate man. And I am fortunate to have shared in his effort, conviction and family life.
Thank you Todd Vachon.
Here is Todd Vachon’s campaign web site: www.VoteVachon.com