Keep Language Meaningful

Car owners in Vermont are required to have license plates on the front of their car(s).  There are exceptions.  In 2009, drivers could display a Lake Champlain 400th anniversary plate.  (The lake is actually much older, but it’s been 403 years since the white folks showed up and we tend only to celebrate ourselves.)

Now drivers can eschew a front plate if they have the “I am Vermont Strong” plate, which can be purchased in many locations for $25, with the proceeds going to repair damage caused by 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene.

This is a good and worthy cause, a bad phrase, a cowardly idea and the whole thing is not generating anything near the kind of cash the governor hoped for.  Let’s start with the phrase: I am Vermont Strong – what does that mean?  I suppose it’s suppose to mean that Vermont, knocked to its knees by yet another global warming-induced storm, will rise again stronger.

I guess it was cribbed from the US Army’s “I am Army Strong” and thus unoriginal.  An earlier attempt at an Army tag line read: “I am an Army of one.”  “I am a Vermont of one” wouldn’t make any sense, either.  The whole “strong” motif put me in mind of the old Irish Spring soap commercials: “You’re a strong man Sean.”  “A bit stronger than I’d like to be,” he replies, plucking at his sweaty shirt.

If we look past the potential inference to body odor, how is Vermont strong supposed to differ from other regional strengths?  After all, last week I saw a car with New Jersey license plates and a bumper sticker that said “Jersey Strong.”  So we’re all strong, in slightly different ways as one moves about the country.  I suppose it’s a bit like having a state bird.

(By the way, t-shirts and bumpers stickers have been appearing around here bearing the legend: Keep Vermont Weird.  That’s going too far. Vermont is weird, but the phrase is Keep Austin Weird and should belong exclusively to the Texas capital.  They coined it, they own it, let’s not cheapen it.  You hear me, Portland?)

As snippy as word nerds might get, the real problem here is that Vermont should not hope to pay for restoring storm damage by selling commemorative license plates.  Our governor, Peter Shumlin, nice guy, is just completing his first two-year term of office and is running for re-election so his people came up with this cheesy license plate gambit.

Why not borrow?  Interest rates are as low as they’re likely to go.  Raise taxes?  As much as people think of Vermont as a socialist paradise, we do not have a particularly progressive tax system.  The rich are perhaps not as undertaxed in Vermont as they are in states where they have other of their multiple residences, but it ain’t exactly fair, either.

Natural disasters happen, even if they’re not so natural, as we’re learning.  To try to get people to voluntarily pony up for their own relief by buying special plates doesn’t seem like leadership.  It seems like those cheesy ads for the Franklin Mint I used to see in the Sunday Parade magazine in the newspaper.

Apparently, the kind of strong one gets in Vermont does not extend to the strength of political conviction.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

One Comment

  1. Ian
    Posted 11/14/2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I am a resident of new jersey. As far as i can tell, jersey strong is a phrase a chain of gyms around here uses for marketing the past few years. I can almost guarantee the bumper sticker you saw was from them. After hurricane sandy, the phrase is everywhere! Haha im riding the bus right now and just passed a billboard, workout world actually owns the website

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