The Oklahoman editorial published on NewsOK.com today that endorses Mitt Romney for president is a long-winded, overly dramatic screed that employs enough strange rhetorical tropes that it’s worthy of critique by liberals and conservatives alike.
It should also leave people wondering if this is the type of over-the-top empty emotionalism-folks, sit down for this one, only Mitt Romney can restore the nation’s greatness-readers can expect under Philip Anschutz, the Denver billionaire, who is the paper’s new, absentee owner. The over-the-top visceral and breathless writing voice and the repeated, nauseating references to “Heartland” actually make the editorial more like a satirical piece in The Onion or an urgent editorial arguing for a more lenient hall pass policy in a junior high school newspaper than a serious political endorsement.
Let me be clear: Obviously, The Oklahoman is going to endorse a Republican for president, and Mitt Romney, at this juncture, seems like the strongest GOP candidate to challenge President Barack Obama. That the newspaper is supporting the prevailing conventional wisdom passed down from the nation’s glorious media pundits, who are usually wrong, is nothing special, but the way it does so is, well, very strange.
The editorial, titled on NewsOK.com as “Oklahoman endorsement: Romney is best man to restore nation’s greatness,” (Dec. 18. 2011), never provides adequate context for its contention that the country has lost its “greatness” under Obama nor does it provide a much-needed definition of “Heartland,” which the newspaper seems to argue is made up of one homogenous, conservative group united against Obama. That there’s a prevailing anti-Obama hysteria in this part of the country is no secret, The Oklahoman promotes it, but however you define the Heartland, it’s inhabited by a much more diverse group of people than what the editorial imagines.
Here’s some point-by-point critiques of the editorial:
(1) The editorial refers to “voices of the heartland,” “Voices of common sense, not anger and entitlement, spring from the Heartland,” “We in the Heartland wait and watch,” “call on those in the Heartland to stay united,” “The Heartland states contribute significantly to America’s greatness,” and on and on. But the editorial never tells us which states make up the Heartland. Does it include Texas and Minnesota? Is it made up of Midwestern states that might include Illinois, Obama’s home state? Is it southeastern and south-central states, including Mississippi? Is Heartland interchangeable with Bible Belt? Is it a metaphor, a political trope, a journalistic term?
More importantly, the editorial doesn’t prominently concede that diversity exists in the ill-defined Heartland or even in Oklahoma. There are plenty of people in this state who support Obama and consider themselves liberals. As I’ve brought up before, 527,736 Oklahomans voted for Andrew Rice, a progressive Democrat, for U.S. Senator in 2008. Sure, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe received 763,375 votes, but, still, more than 525,000 Oklahomans, 18 or older, in one of the reddest of red states voted for a progressive during Obama’s election year. The state or the Heartland, whatever it is, isn’t as homogenous as The Oklahoman depicts it.
The facts would also argue that a segment of right-wing Christian voters in the Heartland, Bible Belt, Midwest, or whatever you want to call it, remain suspicious about Romney’s Mormon faith. How does that fit with the editorial’s adoration of the Heartlanders?
(2) The newspaper takes the unusual step of actually endorsing Romney for president, not just as the best choice in the Iowa caucuses or in other upcoming primaries. It’s strange. Compare the editorial to one endorsing Romney in Iowa by The Des Moines Register.
Here are my points: It’s still early in the election. What if another Republican, a more popular politician, gets into the race? What if Romney can’t hold the GOP base? What if Romney hasn’t been vetted enough and information surfaces about him that makes him unelectable? In this context, then, the endorsement seems desperate-we have to rally around one candidate NOW!-or the Anschutz team is dictating its preference or it’s an admission the Tea Party darlings aren’t electable.
(3) A significant point in the editorial is this:
Romney aligns with our values in Oklahoma and throughout the Heartland. He made that clear in a Dec. 7 meeting with members of the editorial boards of The Oklahoman and The Washington Examiner.
(But Romney doesn’t align with the values of thousands upon thousands of Oklahomans and other Heartlanders.)
Anschutz, of course, also owns The Washington Examiner, a conservative media outlet in the Washington, D.C. area, which also endorsed Romney. Are the two editorial boards going to speak in one voice now with the D.C. branch dictating dogma? What does this mean for Oklahoma, and for Oklahoma City, in particular? Was the unsigned editorial written by someone here in Oklahoma or someone in Washington? These are legitimate questions for everyone in this community.
(4) The editorial’s specific points against Obama seem to be his prudence in dealing with the Keystone XL pipeline, a Labor Department rule about farm safety and children, and, of course, Obamacare. There is the usual GOP charge of elitism, too. It seems trivial, and none of this matches the editorial’s own rhetorical breathlessness about the urgency of restoring America’s greatness. The editorial even concedes Romney has changed his mind about significant issues over the years, but, of course, it’s just a matter of acquiring wisdom, not flip flopping.
There’s nothing or very little in the editorial about the Afghanistan war. What about foreign policy? What about the financial problems in Europe? What about China?
Once you wade through the meandering editorial it comes down to this: Romney can beat Obama. Newt Gingrich can’t. Big deal, right? It’s the rhetorical artifice in the editorial surrounding this simple argument that’s the interesting part.