I’ve been trying today to remember a time when Oklahoma’s national image was this negative and, really, just downright cataclysmic for the state, and I just can’t come up with a time period. The Dust Bowl days in the 1930s?
Here’s just a partial list of what has been in the national news about Oklahoma recently:
(1) We lead the nation in executions on a per capita basis.
(2) Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of fatal police shootings on a per capita basis.
(3) We imprison the most women on a per capita basis.
(4) We lead the contiguous United States in the number of 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes we endure because of a portion of the fracking process.
(5) We have cut education funding the most of any state since the 2008 economic downturn.
(6) Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues his relentless and laughable legal wars against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Affordable Care Act.
(7) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe recently held a snowball in his hand on the Senate floor and claimed once and for all it proves global warming is a left-wing conspiracy. He was widely mocked throughout the world.
(8) The governor’s daughter was living in a recreation vehicle at the state “mansion.” The story became known as “trailergate.” It got widespread, national coverage.
(9) The Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol has created controversy and silliness widely reported throughout the world.
(10) U.S. Sen. James Lankford isn’t doing much as a political leader these days but attacking Planned Parenthood based on secretly recorded and obviously biased and fraudulent videos. He’s widely known as a fanatic ideologue in Washington but adored by The Oklahoman editorial board as some wise sage.
(11) Oklahoma faces a massive teacher shortage because of low pay and poor working conditions. The state’s anti-education mentality has never been on such wide display than now, or at least I can’t remember such a time.
(12) The Oklahoma Health Care Authority just cut the payment rate for developmental disabilities service providers. Read that sentence again.
Fill in the blank. I know I’m leaving something out when I haven’t even mentioned state Rep. Sally Kern or any other of the cast of characters in the state legislature that sponsor obviously unconstitutional bills that cost the state money in legal fees when they have to be unsuccessfully defended.
We kill. We imprison. We cut education. We deny health care to poor people because they are poor. The world looks on at the spectacle, and it costs the state economic development and lowers our quality of life here.
There’s not much to be done to save Oklahoma’s image at this point, especially since the local media is complicit in the tragedy. They wallow in the cesspool, get used to the stench and rake in what conventional advertising dollars are still left out there based on the Okie spectacle . . . for now. Laugh or cry. Take your pick. Oklahoma is a longtime laughingstock of the world, and it’s only getting worse, folks. No, not even the Oklahoma City Thunder can get us out of this mess with a national championship.
To re-paraphrase an old Donovan song, it “must be the season of the gaffe,” and it’s growing as old as the song itself locally and nationally.
I’m not the first to point this out. Matthew Pulver recently wrote about the media’s obsession with gaffes in Salon.com. But the reporting of so-called verbal gaffes committed by politicians often misses the point. Are they miscommunications corrected by a simple apology or, more likely, are they statements of belief and value systems?
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican Party, all have made the news recently for supposedly miscommunicating ideas, and the local and national media has seized on them voraciously.
Here’s how it works: A politician says something controversial. The media reports it. The politician’s opponents demand an apology or ridicule what the politician said. The media reports it. The initial politician then issues some type of clarification or apology. The politician’s opponents claim that it isn’t enough. The media reports it. Then another politician gaffes it up, and the cycle repeats itself.
The next presidential election doesn’t happen until 2016 so I will go out on a limb and forecast a lot of gaffe reporting awaits us in the future. Must be the season of the gaffe.
On the local level recently, Fallin made news when she appeared in front of reporters to not know the three branches of government. That was followed by an Oklahoma Republican Party Facebook post that compared people on food stamps to animals, which created a tremendous amount of controversy. Both made national news. Fallin, to my knowledge never clarified her statement. The chair of the Oklahoma GOP, Randy Brogdon, apologized after a storm of criticism.
In each case, however, the main issue seemed to get lost in the reporting.
As I argued earlier, Fallin most likely knows the three branches of government include the executive, judicial and legislative. Here’s what she said that caused the media firestorm:
You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.
The media, of course, focused on how she clumsily described the branches of government. But it was her main point that deserved more discussion. Her point basically was that Oklahoma voters, not a court, should be allowed to decide the fate of the Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds. As you know, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 2 the monument must be removed from the Capitol because it violates the state’s constitution.
But the very purpose of the judicial branch of government is to uphold laws and constitutions while protecting those people with minority viewpoints from tyranny and mob rule. Fallin is expressing a deep-seated philosophical viewpoint about the rule of law, and her refusal to remove the monument and her basis for it should be the focus of scrutiny.
The media also seized on a cruel Facebook post by the Oklahoma Republican Party. Here’s the text of that post, which has since been removed:
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."
Thus ends today's lesson in irony ?#OKGOP
Another gaffe? Well, Brogdon sort of apologized and the post was removed, but the point is that there are many, many people in Oklahoma that possess misinformation about people who receive food stamps. They close their minds to studies and basic financial information that prove the vast majority of people who receive assistance are actually in dire need of help.
Should we let voters decide every issue, even if it’s discriminatory against another group of people? Should we allow children to go hungry or even starve to death in this country because they “will grow dependent on handouts . . .”? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Who cares if Fallin knows the three branches of government or whether Brogdon is truly apologetic? What matters is the substance (or lack thereof) of their narrow viewpoints.
Progressives and liberals here in conservative Oklahoma need to take a day or two to emotionally recover from the conservative landslide in Tuesday’s state election and then get right back to pushing for their values in the political scene.
That’s my advice after the carnage Tuesday, which included lopsided votes in favor of Republicans for the entire ballot’s statewide and Congressional and Senate offices, including the governor’s seat. Here’s another bit of bad news: Republicans picked up four seats in the state Senate and will now have a 40-8 advantage. Republicans continue to hold a huge majority in the House.
The national election results didn’t bring good news either as Republicans took control of the Senate. This will create even more gridlock and standoffs between the White House administration and the national House and Senate. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s infamous global warming denier who is about to turn 80, is even poised to become chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The planet is definitely in more danger now because of Inhofe’s intractable position on climate change, and that’s not hyperbole.
The political atmosphere over the next two years on both the state and federal level will definitely be frustrating and ugly for progressives. That’s why it’s important to keep fighting rather than give up. I believe there is hope for a massive correction on the national level in the 2016 election. It’s also possible the Oklahoma electorate will grow tired of the conservative extremism in state government by then but, frankly, a significant shift might be ten or more years away, and even that is uncertain to me.
The reasons for the demise of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma are myriad, some of which are outside its control. The party faces a hostile and blatantly unfair corporate media, which is not above distorting facts or omitting crucial information about political issues. There is the insidious paranoid anti-President Barack Obama hysteria anchored in racism and fueled subtly by many state media outlets. This racism then affects how voters perceive Democrats in general here. There are too many, dare I say arrogant, “leaders” and “activists” and “experts” who think they know the magic solution or want people to adopt their ideas or political approaches solely and not enough people who want to unite around some common causes despite differences in opinions. There are too many supposed progressives who sit scared on the sidelines and won’t speak up because of some exaggerated fear of reprisal.
Here’s how I view the political reality: There’s no one answer or one candidate here that can bring about change. Some of what we’re experiencing politically here is beyond our control. It might take a major crisis for change to occur or we might be slowly but surely heading to a statewide abyss. What happens after even more tax cuts here when the Oklahoma oil and gas boom goes bust, which it surely will?
But, today, the main worry for progressives here should be battle fatigue. How do we get back up after getting knocked down over and over again? How do we continue to support candidates when we know they are the better person for the office but also know they will lose by landslide margins and leave us open to mocking and ridicule by our opponents?
The only answer I have to these questions is for progressives to keep fighting. It may well be that you might not even live to see the change you fought for, but you would have lived a life based on reality and inclusive principles that include believing in equality and social justice for everyone. Change is sometimes extremely slow and incremental. Don’t give up.