Post-Election View From Manhattan: What Is the Matter With Rural Oregon?


Though it's certainly just one in a million of such reactions, this Nicholas Kristof post-election take in The New York Times seems a near-perfect specimen of what President Obama's record looks like inside a certain political/commentariat bubble. Sample:

My feeling is that the country has gone too far on blaming its economic distress on Mr. Obama, failing to give him credit for averting another Great Depression among other achievements. But it seems as if Michelle and I may be the only ones who think that way.

I plumb the national disappointment when I return to my hometown in rural Oregon. One friend who has struggled to get health care and will benefit hugely from Mr. Obama's health plan is indignant at Mr. Obama — partly because of incorrect scare stories he has heard about the health reform. Others are aghast at the economic stimulus, even though it provided desperately needed jobs. In short, Mr. Obama hasn't mustered an argument that resonates even among the beneficiaries of his policies.

Not only does Kristof credit Obama with apparently unmeasurable economic policy successes that the rubes are too dull-witted to discern, he then writes as if the GOP is ascendant because of social conservatism:

[C]onsider Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, freshly re-elected and the godfather of the Senate's Tea Party faction. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Mr. DeMint advises new Tea Party members of Congress not to be co-opted and adds: "Put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today."

That's a fight that should end with a knockout for Mr. Obama. Over the years, Mr. DeMint has spoken out against not only gay teachers but also female teachers who have sex before marriage. After a rally on Oct. 1, the Spartanburg, S.C., newspaper paraphrased him: "An unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn't be in the classroom."

Mr. DeMint later clarified that this is an issue best left for local school boards. But I think most Americans seek a moral leadership that isn't about wagging fingers at women who have sex with boyfriends. The moral imperative should be getting Americans jobs, decent schools, access to doctors and a measure of opportunity.

Funny thing about that DeMint op-ed: Nowhere does he mention gay people, premarital sex, or anything at all having to do with social conservatism.

While I for one fervently wish DeMint's ideas about cultural issues tacked closer to live-and-let-live tolerance, to the point where I instinctively mistrust his proclaimed championing of "less government and more freedom," it is impossible to read this buck-the-GOP-establishment manifesto–with its talk of looming "fiscal disaster," earmark corruption, runaway entitlements, and bloated government–as a clarion call for social conservatism.

If Kristof and his ilk genuinely seek understanding of what happened Tuesday, it would start with entertaining at least limited self-doubt about their economic-policy assumptions, and realizing that the political juice fueling this revolt has much more to do with fiscal conservatism than Terri Schiavo.

This would, however, entail some hands-dirtying with actual economic policy and results. In lieu of that, Kristof goes for the old standby: "Mr. Obama, It's Time for Some Poetry." Sounds to me like an invitation to a limerick contest in the comments!