Inigo Montoya: I donna suppose you could speed things up?
Man in Black: If you’re in such a hurry, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to do.
Inigo Montoya: I could do that. I have some rope up here, but I do not think you would accept my help, since I am only waiting around to kill you.
Man in Black: That does put a damper on our relationship.
I am going to set up this post a little differently then usual. Instead of the usual movie review and then political tie-in, I’m going to merge the two and go through a number of the scenes from one of the greatest movies ever made – – The Princess Bride and connect each one to the Vermont Governor’s Race. If you want a more traditional review of the race check out this excellent piece in Vermont Digger by my former UVM Political Science Professor Garrison Nelson. In addition, this entry is not an endorsement of anyone, much in the same way that the Editorial Board of the Yale Record did not endorse Hillary Clinton.
SCENE I – Buttercup and Westley
The Princess Bride begins with two farm hands, Westley and Buttercup, fallen madly in love with each other (after what is alluded to be a long and subtle courtship) on a fictional farm in the Country of Florin. Westley having no money leaves the farm to make his way in the world and shortly thereafter Buttercup receives word that he is captured and killed by the “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Gubernatorial Candidate Phil Scott is not unlike Westley in his long term courtship of the Vermont public. He has over his many years of public service become some one well liked, if not loved by the people of Vermont. That’s not to say that everyone agrees with him on every position, but that in general he is trusted. In fact in one of only two polls conducted so far in this election, it is interesting to note that that Phil was deemed to be the person trusted most on five of the eight core issues polled.
SCENE II – Kidnapped
Buttercup believing Westley to be gone, reluctantly agrees a betrothal to Florin’s Crown Prince Humperdinck. She instantly wins over the hearts of the public and the Prince becomes increasingly jealous. With that said he was not the most benevolent person in the world to begin with as his marriage plans are really part of a larger plot to have Buttercup kidnapped by the trio of Vizzini (the mastermind), Fezzik (the muscle) and Inigo Montoya (the tactician). Humperdinck’s plan is to kidnap and murder Buttercup in the neighboring country of Guilder as an excuse for starting a war. The Prince’s offensive against Buttercup and the self-funded henchmen-for-hire that he has employed, is in many ways not dissimilar to the primary campaign run by retired Wall Street Executive Bruce Lisman against Phil. Lisman had essentially unlimited coffers of money to turn to and let loose a scorched earth type campaign featuring a number of hired operatives unlike any that the Vermont GOP has seen in recent years. Ultimately though the primary wasn’t even close and Phil won with over 60% of the vote. In retrospect the Republican primary likely made Phil a more formidable candidate for the general election.
SCENE III – Sword Fight
While sailing across Eel Infested Waters and climbing the Cliffs of Insanity, the trio and Buttercup notice that they are being followed by a Man in Black. Inigo, a master swordsman who has done nothing but study the art of swordplay for the last 20 years in order to avenge the death of his father by the nefarious “Six Fingered Man,” stays behind in hopes of dispatching the Man in Black, while Vizzini and Fezzik continue on word with Buttercup. Inigo begins the fight with his left hand and later reveals that he is not left-handed and starts to overtake the Man in Black. When it seems that things are not going his way, the Man in Black reveals that he is not left-handed either, over takes, Inigo and instead of killing him, merely knocks him out stating – “I would sooner destroy a stained glass window than an artist like yourself. However, since I can’t have you follow me either….” Inigo represents the homegrown Democratic political operatives in Vermont. My sense is that there is respect, if not outright admiration among many of those operatives for Phil, which is not typically the case. Respect for an opponent of course makes bare-knuckle campaigning that much more difficult. Similarly instead of being goaded into negatively attacking his opponent, by various special interest groups, Phil has consistently run a positive and transparent campaign. Like an expert swordsman he could have easily tried to pivot and spin on some of the sticker issues that he has faced, but instead he has stood his ground and taken some jabs that he could have otherwise parried.
SCENE IV – Wrestling with the Giant
After dispatching Inigo, the Man in Black, encounters the gentle giant Fezzik (played by real life professional wrestler Andre the Giant). Fezzik suggests that “We face each other as God intended. Sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone.” And the Man in Black responds, “You mean, you’ll put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword, and we’ll try and kill each other like civilized people?” Ultimately the Man in Black is able to subdue Fezzik using a sleeper hold because the giant has been so used to fighting multiple men at a time that he has forgotten the moves to employ against one person. In this case Fezzik represents the various out-of-state groups that are used to fighting Republicans on a multitude of other fronts in other states. Frankly the techniques that may be used in those other states differ from what is the norm Vermont. Scott has to some extent managed to subdue and neutralize those attacks and in some instances reverse them. The fact of the matter is that on his social views, Scott would likely be considered a moderate to liberal Democrat in many states across the nation. And that’s another reason why when these national giants attack, it is easier for Scott to outmaneuver them then their typical quarry.
SCENE V – Battle of the Wits
The Man in Black, ultimately catches up with Vizzini and Buttercup. Vizzini knowing that he is not as strong or as athletic as the Man in Black challenges him to a “Battle of Wits.” The Man in Black accepts this challenge and presents Vizzini with two cups of wine indicating that one of them is poisoned and that Vizzini needs to guess which one is safe and then they both drink. Vizzini then goes on to speak in rhetorical circles for several minutes (see clip below in case you have forgotten one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history) ultimately distracting the Man in Black and switching the cups. He then chooses a cup and implores the Man in Black to pick-up the other cup and drink. Vizzini thinking that he has out smarted the Man in Black then starts laughing hysterically reciting the quote referenced in the opening “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders—the most famous of which is, ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’—but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line’! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…[thunk].” That “thunk” is Vizzini falling over dead. It turns out the Man in Black cheated the cheater, he poisoned both cups with a toxin that he had build up an immunity to over the years.
Phil hasn’t cheated in this election. He could have done more to disavow some of the negative attacks (albeit relatively mild ones) by some of the people and groups supporting him, but he has not cheated. He has however, built up an immunity to these negative attacks because of his strength of character. Because of his honesty. Because of his sincerity. These are things that cannot be learnt or manufactured or purchased. It has also prevented him from being pegged as beholden to the National Republican Party or the types of Republicans found supporting the Trump Campaign (that Phil very wisely disavowed very early on).
SCENES VI and VII – The Fire Swamp and Count Rugen (The Six Fingered Man)
After knocking off Vizzini the Man in Black frees Buttercup. Buttercup not knowing that it is her lost love Westley, pushes him down a steep hill and it is only after the fact that she realizes her mistake and hurdles herself after him. Unfortunately at the bottom of the hill is the notorious Fire Swamp. Filled with quicksand and shooting flames, Westley and Buttercup think that they’ve finally have a handle on things and the are just about in the clear, when they encounter a Rodent of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.). Westley manages to thwart the attack through a mix of swordplay and utilizing some of the natural flames, but only after suffering a grievous injury. As he and Buttercup come staggering out of the Fire Swamp, the encounter the Prince accompanied by Count Rugen.
Humperdinck feigns concern about Buttercup and escorts her back to the castle and promising that Westley will be returned to his ship. Alone with Westley, Count Rugen says “Come Sir we must get you to your ship.” And Westley replies “We are men of action, lies do not become us.” Rugen responds “Well spoken sir” and drags Westley off to the Pit of Despair. Like the surprise attack of the R.O.U.S., in the ending weeks of the election, Scott has been severely wounded by surprise attacks. And it is not at all unusual for political campaigns and their allies to pull out all stops in the end game. Again Phil’s response has been a steady and measured one realizing his weaknesses and readily admitting to them, in the same way that Westley acknowledged that both he and Rugen knew what was going to happen next.
SCENE VIII – The Pit of Despair
The Pit of Despair is pretty much what it sounds like. The Albino attendant, heals Westley back to perfect health, only for the purpose of later being tortured by Count Rugen who as invented a device that literally sucks the life out of a person by number of years. Although his intention was to start slowly and experiment on Westley, Rugen’s plans are foiled, when the Prince in a fit of rage, after being rejected by the Princess, throws the machine to its highest setting and literally sucks the life out of Westley. Fezzik and Inigo eventually find the secret location of the Pit of Despair, but arrive too late and find Westley dead (or so they believe). Like the torture device the Democrats have gone to the highest setting in the Governor’s Race. President Obama cut a radio ad, Vice-President Biden visited in person, Senator Sanders has been campaigning on the ground along with Senator Leahy, Senator Franken and Congressman Welch and all of the Statewide Democratic candidates for office, none of whom actually face much of a challenge for the offices they are seeking with the exception of the Lieutenant Governor’s race. The question is whether this amount attention is too much attention? Why the energy concentrated in little Vermont against a centrist candidate when there are so many other worthy races to focus on throughout the nation? And of course there is a certain element of ganging up or at least the appearance of ganging up on Scott. And nobody likes to watch an unfair fight, no matter who they are rooting for.
SCENE IX – Miracle Max
Inigo and Fezzik, not knowing what else to do, bring Westley to the King’s old Miracle Worker/Medicine Man – Miracle Max (played by the movie stopper Billy Crystal). Max determines that Westley is only “mostly dead” and by sticking a set of bellows into Westley’s mouth, he can get him to speak. Max asks Westley what is worth living for and Westley clearly says “true love.” Max is clearly shaken saying that it could not be true love, because “true love is the greatest thing in the world – except for a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomatoes are ripe.” Instead Max claims that Westley stated “to blave.” At this point Max’s wife (played by the indomitable Carol Kane) comes out calls him a liar and infighting ensues between the two of them. Max initially refuses to help the group, but when finding out his efforts will thwart Humperdinck, agrees to take the job and sends them off with a “Miracle Pill” revive Westley and help overthrow the Prince at the Castle.
“Have fun storming the Castle boys!”
Although Scott may have been written off by some circles, his campaign is far from over. The first “Miracle Pill” was announced by the Scott campaign today and included the support of a wide array of Democrats, Independents and Progressives from around the State. There is an even more important take away from the Scott Campaign or really from the current “Scott Administration” which consists of exactly one staffer, Rachel Feldman. As you can see from her experience, Feldman is not your typical Republican, or at least what one stereotypes a typical Republican staffer to encompass. In fact, by all outward appearances she is a liberal Democrat, or so it appears from her twitter feed. But like Miracle Max, Scott is not afraid to keep someone with views that may differ from his own as a close advisor. And that is a trait not too often found in today’s political echo chamber or by many, if any partisan politicians.
We know how the Princess Bride ends, but we don’t know how the election ends. Check back here after November 8th to see if it syncs up with the ending of the Princess Bride.