Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oregon and Kentucky

I haven’t spent much time in either Oregon or Kentucky. I once spent a week in Bend, Oregon, for training when I was in the window business. It is a beautiful part of the state with the high desert and mountains surrounding the city and the strong scent of pine everywhere. I used to live across the river from Kentucky when I was teaching in Evansville, Indiana, and I used to travel through the western part of the state, which is lush and beautiful as well. Both states seem to suffer from preconceptions by people who don’t live there: Oregon is a tofu-granola state crawling with academics and liberals, and Kentucky is full of hillbillies who dig coal and run moonshine in their beat-to-shit pickups. But even in my short time in both places, I met enough people to put those prejudices to rest. Oregon is just as rural in places as any hard-core red state in the Midwest, and Kentucky is just as urban and sophisticated in places as any hip state on the east or west coast. (If you want to use the arts as a barometer, both states boast world-class theatre: The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.)

So what does that have to with the results of yesterday’s Democratic primaries in those states? It means, at least to the casual observer, that the win by Hillary Clinton in Kentucky and the win by Barack Obama in Oregon could have been reversed and that the pundits could have easily made the case that Mr. Obama should have won in Kentucky — it’s a neighbor state to his home state of Illinois — and that Hillary Clinton should have won Oregon because she appeals to lower-income yet independent-minded people, and Oregon has its fair share of that demographic. And if you follow the conventional wisdom that is rampant in the commentary, Hillary Clinton should have won out in Oregon because she’s seen as a hero by a lot of Democrats for standing up to the Starr investigation, and she should have lost in Kentucky because the hatred of the Clintons by the right-wing seeps into all levels of politics there thanks to the efforts of Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning. For Mr. Obama, the CW would have said he would have attracted the sizable black vote in Kentucky, and the percentage of black voters in Oregon is probably a lot smaller than it is in Kentucky. (This isn’t to say that race didn’t play a part in the outcome. Andrew Sullivan notes the stark fact that one in five Democratic voters in Kentucky said that race played a part in their choice, and they went overwhelmingly for Clinton.)

But that’s if you go by the conventional wisdom. My guess is that the results were all a massive plot by the Democratic voters in both states to keep people like Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews working themselves into fits of unbridled excess in order to keep talking for the five hours between the time the polls closed in eastern Kentucky and Oregon, and when the election comes around in November, not a whole lot of people will remember the reasons why one state went for one candidate and not the other. The only thing that will matter is whether or not the Democratic nominee can win the state.