Thursday, December 4, 2008

Maybe he just doesn’t like Ben and Jerry’s. Or teddy bears. Or the best darn maple syrup on the planet.

Whatever the reason, President Bush has never visited Vermont. He’s hit the other 49 states, including jetting 4,300 miles to Alaska four times. He’s traipsed across enemy territory such as California (22 times) and Vermont’s neighbor New Hampshire (13 times), but never once in his 2,875 days in office has he set foot in the Green Mountain State, which was once so Republican that FDR went 0-4 there.

Now, he’s got just 46.5 days left in office, and a scant 50-minute flight aboard his personal 747 to allow him to check off that 50th state. So will he do it?

“I’ve heard some talk that he might be considering a trip here in the last couple of weeks of his presidency,” said state Republican Party Chairman Rob Roper. “But we haven’t been pushing one way or the other,” said the typically laid-back Vermonter. The White House will neither confirm nor deny the claim.

Just what could Mr. Bush do if he popped up to Vermont for a day trip? “Avoid arrest,” Mr. Roper said with a laugh. “He’s welcome in most of the state, but not so much in Brattleboro.”

Oh, right. Brattleboro (town motto: “Where It Can ALL Happen!”). In January, the tiny town of 12,000 just north of the Massachusetts border voted “to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution.”

Having just enacted a law to keep nudists from parading around the 250-year-old streets of the town, the measure called for the Brattleboro police to “arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them.”

Rich Garant, a member of the town’s Selectboard who voted for the measure, had a common reaction when asked about a presidential visit. “Hahahahahaha,” he guffawed. “What bar are you drinking in?”

But he’s dead serious when it comes to the town’s indictments. “This is a matter of war crimes. I think there’s a very factual case that can be made. I don’t think that’s trivial.” Citing the holding of prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the treatment of captives and the wiretapping of U.S. citizens, he said, “No one should be above the law.”

Still, Mr. Garant said he realizes the absurdity of the town’s measure. “If the president comes to town with the Secret Service, they’re not going to let him be arrested. And it’s not like the Brattleboro police are going to say, ‘Let’s get in a gun-shoot with the president’s men.’”

In addition, the town official said, Mr. Bush is safe, at least until 12:01 p.m. on Jan. 20, noting that then-to-be former president would face arrest in the town only if Congress has not voted to impeach him, which looks unlikely. Still, scratch Brattleboro (oh, and Marlboro, which passed a similar measure).

While hitting all 50 states during one’s presidency is a relatively modern achievement - President Nixon was the first to accomplish the feat - George Washington traveled to every state in the union during his two terms in office, no doubt ending up with some severe saddle sores. Since Mr. Nixon, though, only two presidents have batted for the cycle.

President Ford had little time during his truncated term to make it to all 50 states, and one-termer President Carter didn’t have much time, either, failing to accomplish the feat as well. President Reagan, who had eight years in office, liked his California ranch a lot and didn’t bother, falling four states short (he skipped Rhode Island, Delaware, Maine - and Vermont).

But President George H.W. Bush made it to all 50 in just three years and two months (saving Vermont for last, by the way). And President Clinton nipped in to Nebraska just a month before he left office to give him boasting rights of all 50.

So why not Vermont for Mr. Bush? It was the first state to outlaw slavery (although the last to get a Wal-Mart). Vermont sent nearly 35,000 men into the Civil War, and 5,200 died. The picturesque state of just 600,000 residents (about the size of the District, although 98 percent are white, the second highest in the nation), boasts spectacular skiing, beautiful lakes and a fall foliage season that attracts thousands to see the brilliant reds and yellows of the changing leaves.

Although Mr. Bush has gone Western (his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch looks nothing like Vermont), the president loves the Northeast - he was, after all, born in Connecticut, schooled in Massachusetts and often summered at his parents’ palatial spread in Maine. He even spent some wicked winters there.

But he got pummeled twice in the most liberal state in the nation, winning just 40.7 percent of the state’s vote in 2000 and 38.8 percent in 2004. (Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain - aka “Bush III” - got hammered there as well, losing 67 percent to 30 percent, the largest loss margin of any state.)

Still, the state has a newly elected Republican governor, who has invited the president to visit, as have the two senators - one Democrat and the other an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

“When I met with him at the White House last year, I mentioned to him that while he is not popular in Vermont, the people would love for him to visit,” said independent Sen. Bernard Sanders, although he quickly added that “the people of Vermont were ahead of much of the country in understanding the disastrous nature of many of his policies.”

By CBS’ Mark Knoller’s count, Mr. Bush has made 48 foreign trips to 75 countries, including Albania, Uganda, Qatar - even Ulan Bator, Mongolia - and at least one Vermonter hopes he’ll see fit to follow the advice printed right on the state’s license plate (“Visit Vermont!”).

“Whether I like the president or not, I have great respect for the office,” said Brattleboro Council Chairman Richard DeGray. “And I do think that it will be uncomfortable some time down the road when he’s sitting around the Thanksgiving table or the Christmas table with his family and his grandchildren and one of them says to him, ‘Grandpa, why was Vermont the only state that you never visited?’”

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