Senator Benning takes a bow: puts a feather in his cap

Vermont has a new motto, Stella quarta decima fulgeat, (May the 14th star shine bright), thanks in large part to State Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia). Senator Benning responded to Angela Kubicke, a young Latin student who was inspired to write a request that the state establishes a Latin motto.

The motto got a large boost in publicity and no small about of support after  being attacked by commenters on WCAX’s facebook page. Some confused commenters complained the motto was foreign (Spanish) and, why wasn’t it in English? VPO blogger JV Walters was the first to document the reaction.

It all ended well, the legislature bolted into action, acted quickly, and rallied in favor of the motto. Governor Shumlin signed the bill into law this past Friday at a festive Latin Day celebration at UVM.

Now make no mistake, Senator Benning did a good thing and deserves credit for it. However he appears to have forgotten a basic tenet for politicians. A Vermont Cynic photograph seen in VTdigger.com shows him at the celebration happily wearing a shaggy ivy crown. Perhaps he forgot or chose to ignore the widely recognized hard and fast photo-op rule #1: never put anything on your head.

 The rule's origin dates back to 1927 when Vermonter Calvin Coolidge, who while vacationing in South Dakota was photographed wearing an Amercian Indian headdress. The taciturn president looked less than at ease in the exuberant headdress.

 According to political observer Josh King, author of Dukakis in a tank:

Advisers warned Coolidge, who wore the headdress while being named an honorary chief in Deadwood, South Dakota, that he would look funny. “Well it’s good for people to laugh, isn’t it?” Coolidge [reportedly] replied.

It was later on this same vacation when he shocked the nation with the announcement “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.”

Correlation is not causation, and no one in 1927 blamed the headdress for Coolidge’s surprise decision. And for that matter Michael Dukakis’ defeat in his run for president was never explained away exclusively by his image in the tank. But why take chances? Some may recall that for years politicians and diplomats stopped carrying umbrellas thanks in part to Neville Chamberlain.

So, we had some laughs and Vermont has a nice new motto. As Coolidge quipped, “Sed quia bonum est populus risum annon?” In “American” Engish: “Well, it’s good for people to laugh, isn’t it?”

In the future, Senator Benning should abide by the old political adage :No ivy crowns during photo-ops, but tanks for memories. 

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