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“Why is the Bush campaign so scared of Vermin Supreme?”
By Darren Garnick
Encore Magazine — The Nashua Telegraph
February 4, 2000
After John McCain ‘s stunning victory over George W. Bush
there’s something the New Hampshire Primary pundits are missing. Yes,
the Republican candidates differ on campaign finance reform and abortion
rights. And yeah, they don’t agree on fighting fair (without shame, Bush
supports keeping McCain
off the New York ballot). But the most symbolic
divide is about a floppy rubber boot.
The boot sits atop the skull of Vermin Supreme: political satirist,
street performer and perennial write-in presidential candidate. A
39-year-old housepainter from Massachusetts, he is best known on the
campaign trail for his outlandish costume of the boot, faux fur-covered
jumpsuit and flipper shoulder pads. Coupled with his toy rat mascot,
the outfit is a magnet to shopping mall cop and U.S. Secret Service agent
Without question, Vermin is a publicity-seeking character in love with his own
press clippings. However, underneath the corduroy leopard print cape is
a passionate watchdog for government accountability, political integrity
and a clean environment. Vermin’s message that “all politicians are rats”
is no different than cries that President Clinton is a moral disgrace to the
Oval Office. Sen. McCain is bright enough to see past the boot. Gov.
Bush is not.
A few days before the primary vote, McCain invited Vermin and his
cohort, the “Rev. Red Moses” on stage at a rally and introduced them both as
“great Americans.” He even gave them each a minute or so of microphone
time. A few days earlier, McCain did the same thing for “Captain
Climate” and “Boy Atmosphere,” two college kids wearing tights to
call attention to global warming. Whatever the Arizona senator’s
motivation – some say he wants to prove he has a sense of humor – he is
not afraid to confront guerrilla theater.
The Bush campaign is terrified of anyone not wearing a suit and tie.
Sporting the boot on his head, Vermin was blocked last weekend by a tag team of Milford police, Texas Rangers and federal agents from attending a rally at the Hampshire Hills health club. This is a private affair, he was told, and Gov. Bush could pick and choose who was invited. On the phone and in newspaper advertisements, the Bush campaign declared the event to be open to the public. Vermin was given the same “private property” line a day earlier at a local elementary school, which apparently switched back to its public status when the rally ended.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Bootman tried again at the Pease Airport – this time without head covering or furry pants. Gov. Bush was welcoming voters to join him for the football game and complimentary snacks. “Hello, Vermin,” the Secret Service man said, using the same contemptuous tone that Jerry Seinfeld deploys to greet Newman. Boot or no boot, Vermin did not get anywhere near the snacks.
The role of the U.S. Secret Service is baffling here. If Vermin had posed a bodily threat to Bush or any other presidential candidate, he would have deserved to be smushed into his boot. If he displayed rude and obnoxious behavior in the middle of a Bush speech, he should’ve been yanked out the door. None of this applied, however. Simply put, Vermin was not welcome to watch the Super Bowl because he had worn a funny hat the day before.
Out in the frigid parking lot, Vermin did his shtick about “mandatory dental hygiene” and gave away “Brush Your Teeth – It’s The Law” bumper stickers to anyone would take one. His buddy, the Rev. Red Moses, had a darker message, comparing Bush to Satan and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. A mother and daughter wandered up to the troublemakers and listened to their raps. “You see, everybody has a right in this country to have a different opinion,” the mother said, whispering as an aside that the encounter was a “civics lesson” for the girl.
If more mothers shared this attitude, we’d have fewer uptight, self-righteous grown-ups. Out in the Hampshire Hills parking lot, it was painfully clear that these kind of parents are extremely rare. Among those aggressively protecting the Bush legacy was a college-aged parking lot attendant. “Who’s paying you? Forbes?” he said in an interrogating tone. “Those of us who donate our time and try to make this (politics) a respectable profession again … look like fools next to you!”
Yet, there is hope for political humor. Most of the voters who walked past Vermin at the Bush rallies smiled at his costume and his message. Inside the SUV caravan carrying Bush and parents George and Barbara, there were also plenty of smiles from campaign staffers. Due to tinted windows, the governor’s personal reaction to Vermin was not visible.
Given that his last day in New Hampshire was spent flipping pancakes , sledding and candlepin bowling, George W. probably does like to have fun. With a $200,000 per day spending allowance, he has the money to do whatever he pleases. Maybe in South Carolina he can hire security guards smart enough to know the difference between a dangerous assassin and a harmless clown.
Darren Garnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org