There are times when history walks up to you and asks whether you have the guts to measure up. It happens on stages big and small, when you least expect it. Sometimes it’s a politician or an athlete in front of the world. Other times it’s a parent at home, a teacher in the classroom or any citizen there to help someone.
History walked right up to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott last week and asked whether he could measure up.
Scott has been a reliable supporter of gun rights, the Second Amendment and all the tropes that go with it – that we didn’t have a problem with gun violence.
And then history walked up to Phil Scott and handed him a police affidavit that described a young man’s plan to kill fellow students at a Vermont high school.
In our fractured and perverted political system, most politicians would have avoided the issue, or just left it with the arrest of the boy.
But Scott, staring into the mirror, invited the state legislature to send him a gun control bill to sign. He said he had changed his mind on the issue after reading the affidavit and realizing Vermont is not immune to the gun violence in the rest of the country.
Then Scott stared into the mirror again and said he would not just sign the bill, he would do so on the Statehouse steps, in public.
So…surrounded by DEMOCRATS and his own staff, Scott faced the strangest crowd perhaps in Vermont history. On his right were angry Second amendment, gun rights people. Mostly older white men, they shouted at Scott, calling him a traitor, interrupting him with a bitterness and vitriol Vermont has not seen since its historic debate about same sex-marriage 2000 and 2009.
On the other side were gun control supporters from the new Vermont – younger, many of them parents and more liberal. Many of them yelled “Thank you’’ to a governor they had voted against.
Not only did Scott sign the bill, (on the same table Teddy Roosevelt stood atop when he spoke at the Statehouse in 1902) he gave the speech of a lifetime. He forced the audience to hear a politician talk about hate and anger in America and the political system we have built in which no one listens to each other. He even referred to what we all know lies behind these gun shootings – a society and culture built on technology, speed and wealth instead of human interaction, integrity and values.
Here is the speech:
What Scott did was one of the gutsiest moves I have ever seen from a politician in my life.
He looked into the mirror and answered the question.