Hibbitts' Ephemeral Research

Jeff Alworth

For reasons that remain obscure to me, I periodically pick up a copy of the amusing Brainstorm NW.  Okay, maybe the reason's not so obscure--it's free. Brainstorm is the kind of magazine that takes its cue from the National Review, except that it's focused on local issues.  This puts it in the awkward position of having to mouth triumphal Bushian rhetoric from a decidedly weakened position.  And its brand of populism looks similarly woeful when coupled with contempt for the broad populace here in Little Beirut. Have a look at the verbal gymnastics from the lead editorial in June's edition:

"Maybe democracy is fatally flawed, especially when democracy is attached to its essential partner, capitalism.  At least, that's what a couple of hundred thousand progressive, anti-corporate transplants in Multnomah County would have you believe.  That's what their leader Erik Sten would have you believe."

Damn those majorities, endangering democracy with their "voting!"   

For the most part, Brainstorm is worth what you pay for it.  On rare occasion, though, an article comes along worth reading.  To wit: "The Blue City Blues," by Blue Oregon fave Tim Hibbitts.  In it, Hibbitts admits that lefties run the show in Stumptown, but maintains that we're a collection of increasingly disconnected nutballs who threaten to turn Portland into an "ephemeral city," like San Francisco and Seattle:

"The traits of this kind of city, as [SF Chronicle writer Joel] Kotkin described them, are focused not on wealth generation, nor on construction of a broad and deep middle class, but rather the main product of the ephemeral city is stylish living....  In short, they are the wealthy living off of what is called "unearned income" and they are served by an underclass that makes their lattes and waits on them at trendy restaurants."

It's not a particularly consistent point--he criticizes Portland for not "holding onto or attracting wealth creators" and argues that we're driving young entrepreneurs away. But wait, who's drinking those lattes, again?  Forget the larger point for a moment, though. Instead, consider what Hibbitts does for a living: he polls the opinions of those contemptible beings.  The Oregonian and KATU regularly turn to Hibbitts for unbiased polling on public policy issues.  His results then become the conventional wisdom about the Portland electorate, never mind how poorly worded a question may have been, or how misleading the results.  (Predictably, he rehashes old, dubious findings in this article.)

But Hibbitts, who doesn't claim to be free of opinion, does claim to be fair:  "With due respect to those who think I have been harder on the Dem party and candidates, I have dumped equally on both parties over the years." 

Really?  In the Brainstorm article, listen to the equal dumping:

Here in Oregon, our colors run from the deepest shades of red and blue to pastels on both sides of the political divide, areas that would be comfortable in the most extreme conservative locales in Idaho or Utah, and pockets so left wing they would be right at home in France.

Hibbitts is welcome to nail Portland liberals as latte-sipping Francophiles if he wishes.  But why do KATU and the Oregonian hire him to run polls to find out what Portlanders believe?  It's clear that he's already made up his mind.  You don't bash Portland liberals in the pages of Brainstorm if you're trying to maintain the pretense of fairness.  Unless, I guess, it's that other kind of fairness and balance.  It undermines his credibility as a researcher, and it undermines the results of his polls.

  • Rorovitz (unverified)

    Uh, did I miss the part where he bashes Portland? The quote at the end of the post compares some of the most extremely conservative parts of Oregon to Idaho and Utah, which seems like code for crazy aryan nation people, and compares the left to parts of France. Which says we don't bathe and we oppose the war (as a SE Portlander I feel comfortable saying some of us could bathe more vigorously or frequently).

    I don't see this as particularly out of line. Is there more in the article that reveals bias?

  • (Show?)

    Unfortunately, it's not online. (For a free mag, you'd think they'd do better about free online content, but...)

    The article posits that, due to Portland's wingnut left, the city will become an ephermal city where only "trust-fund babies" will be welcome. He doesn't, Limbaugh-like, blast the "feminazis" or anything so obvious. It's the entire article that's an indictment of liberalism and the values of the Portlanders who hold it.

    For example, he cites as an example the city's squirrelly values the rejection of the JTTF, which 51% of the people supported. "It's a decision no other city has made, including Portland's West Coast political soulmates, San Francisco and Seattle."

    He facilely shifts from the politicians to the people as targets, so it's not always clear who's the agent and who's the victim. The result of this liberalism is clear, however:

    For those who value a genuine diversity of business, culture, and political discourse, let's hope the slogan for Portland in the near future is not, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

    The slogan, apparently, we liberals wish to send to nonbelievers.

  • dispossessed (unverified)

    It doesn't sound, to me, like "the entire article that's an indictment of liberalism and the values of the Portlanders who hold it." It sounds, instead, like it alludes to the increasing money-orientation of Portland. Do you really not see it? It's blinding -- to me in one way, I guess, and to you in another.

    And I certainly wouldn't call it "liberalism." You only think it's liberalism.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    It amazes me that lefties are so often portrayed as a wealthy elite who doesn't need to worry about next week's groceries. This is wholly out of line with reality. Some lefties do occassionally notice that profits and quality of life are not the same thing.

    Hibbits is spouting Limbaugh-grade trash.

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    This latté leftist thing pisses me off. I used to drive every morning to teach an 8 am class for Clark College on the WSUV campus. I would stop at a coffee place in a mall off of I-205 that also had a Kinko's. Most of the other patrons at that hour were women office workers, often buying a group order to bring in for co-workers. There was the occasional guy in a suit, maybe a businessman or professional, maybe a sales guy. This January I was teaching at Linfield's Portland campus, which teaches mainly nursing classes affiliated with Good Samaritan Hospital. A few blocks away Coffee People sits across the street from Starbucks, two NW entrepreneurial success stories who I guess count as class traitors so that trashing their industry isn't anti-corporate or anti-business. Who patronizes them? Maybe a few relatively rich shoppers spending on NW 23rd, and a few more upper middle class ones -- there really aren't that many rich people in Portland/MultCo, just like anywhere else -- but mostly students and people talking about business decisions and retail workers on a break and policemen on a break. Is anyone seriously going to try to tell me that the folks who put out Brainstorm NW and their doyens like Molly Bordonaro drink any less espresso or wine or eat out less at restaurants than liberals? Is it really more elitist to drink espresso and support public spending on education and social services that benefit everyone than to drink espresso and oppose public spending in order to support the interests of the wealthy? I can't afford a boat or an S.U.V., even if I wanted either, but I splurge on a cappucino sometimes, when I really shouldn't according to the budget. That makes me an elitist? Come off it already.

    Brainstorm NW really isn't very much like National Review. It's mainly a magazine of the libertarian right; think Cato Institute rather than Heritage Foundation. However, unfortunately for the values that Tim Hibbetts purports to want to promote, the magazine takes part in the anti-intellectual, anti-deliberative, anti-persuasion politics of trying to win by ridicule rather than substantive engagement with ideas. The result is that it reads like something written by recent graduates of the Dartmouth Review who were always a little embarrassed and secretly ashamed of its racism, but were too cowed to speak up, and are trying to grow up now, but haven't quite figured out that ridicule lacks substance. It thus contributes to the current polarization, which takes place within a very narrow right to center-left spectrum for the most part, and is not really caused by ideology, but rather by demonization and vicious cycles of defensiveness and retribution.

    Tim H. equates what he calls "anti-corporate" with "anti-capitalist." Both are meant to be bashing terms, and he bashes Portland and Multnomah County with them. However, this shows that he is out of touch with what is really happening on the leftier part of the broad left in the metro area. According to his lights, which in this area coincide perfectly with Brainstorm NW's libertarian-lite outlook, anyone who thinks that regulated capitalism sometimes works better than unregulated capitalism, or who thinks that the public sector can be more efficient than private enterprise in delivering certain kinds of social goods, is "anti-corporate" and ipso facto "anti-capitalist." For the Brainstorm NW ideologues, questioning their dogma that privatization is a panacea and that the answer to any problem is to throw a market at it is anti-corporate and anti-capitalist.

    What most interests me about Hibbett's piece is that he seems to share that outlook, at least now. Back in the supposed days of partisan moderation and comity, nostalgia for which, based on very incomplete views of history, he seems to share with many on this list, part of what made Portland a city he would regard as substantial rather than epehemeral was regulation and planning.

    This however was an atypical period in Oregon's and Portland's history, driven partly by the fact that developers had limited new forms of regulation and planning at two earlier periods in the 20th century when many other cities adopted them, amidst state and local politics that were anything but moderate . . . but that's another story, as is the fact that at every census since statehood Oregon has had more people born outside the state than inside it -- and lots of old school Oregonians, like Richard Neuberger, thought that a good thing.

    Erik Sten's big crime is noticing that the principle that "natural monopolies" work best under well-organized public ownership applies to PGE. If you track his position back a way, though, you will find I believe that he opposed the creation of a P.U.D. to take over PGE. My recollection is that at the time he supported a regional private consortium, although I may be wrong and am willing to be corrected. At any rate, he certainly was not the leader of those on the left who first pushed for public ownership, nor of those of us who voted for a P.U.D. despite an inept campaign based on an unintelligible slogan.

    The idea that many of Portland and Multnomah County's establishment liberals are anti-corporate, never mind the DP establishment as a whole is pretty silly. Those who have Tim H. most exercised, the ones who have the effrontery to have gained relatively high incomes and wealth and still think they owe some duty to the public good beyond conflating it with the best conditions for the privately wealthy, mostly make their money as owners, high level managers, or providers of professional services to corporations. Even those few who are willing to criticize disproportionate corporate power openly, who, by and large, do NOT come from wealthier parts of the DP or its constituencies, seek mainly rather limited reforms to the conditions of such power.

    There is of course a fairly large part of the metro area grass-roots left who are in their own view anti-corporate. Because they are, they also tend to be critical of much of the DP and liberal establishment. Then they go on to fight among themselves about third party strategies vs. trying to work inside the DP somehow vs. looking elsewhere than to electoral politics. For this reason they (we) tend to come together best in anti-(whatever) movements. However, if you look at that left, it is not made up of wealthy liberals. Actually a fair number of them work selling espresso drinks to wealthy conservatives & liberals, to nurses and students and teachers and office workers, to Portland cops whom they may later protest over the latest shooting, or clash with over "liberal" efforts to restrict freedom of assembly, etc., etc.. Or they work in other retail service jobs. Others belong to trade unions, or run small businesses (sometimes in worker owned co-ops or collectives) or are self-employed. Others have regular jobs where they hide their politics mostly, disproportionately in underpaid work for non-profits or social service agencies.

    Of that real anti-corporate left, a perhaps substantial fraction feel at least ambivalent about capitalism. But there is a genuine ambivalence, which their focus on corporations rather than the system as a whole reflects. For the most part this is the contemporary version of old-style populism, hostility to the power of concentrated wealth. Only a small fraction of the minority of the metro area left that is anti-corporate have systematic anti-capitalist views. They in turn, like the rest of the minuscule U.S. green, socialist and anarchist left, are riven by sectarian divisions (esp. socialists) and by philosophical, strategic and tactical divisions.

    For a guess, based partly on the size of Portland's anti-war demos and their composition, I would say that the self-identified anti-corporate left numbers in the tens of thousands rather than Hibbetts' hundreds of thousands. Again, his idea that they mostly come from out of state is just silly, though some of us do. As for the systematically anti-capitalist left, I suppose it gets up into the low thousands, maybe, though a chunk of that is a student population that may or may not remain in the area. But that might be a generous estimate.

  • (Show?)

    Brainstorm NW is pretty trashy. I remember they were calling Oregon Democrats the Taliban in one issue last year. It's the same polarized, knee-jerk, jingoistic, hateful, irrational, rabid extremism we've come to know and expect from the Republican media empire. They're our National Review in the sense that Lars Larson is our Rush Limbaugh. (Oh yeah, and "The View from Planet Lars" is a regular bit in BNW - go figure. But Ron Saxton's a regular contributor, too - we'll see who gets the GOP nod in the next primaries.) And BNWs' based in Lake Oswego - go figure.

    Nonetheless, it'd be cool if someone got a counterweight going...

    As for Hibbits, who's had three discussions devoted to him already here on BlueOregon (here, here, and here), he really does seem to be getting a bit off with his language. Maybe his opinions are okay, but "tin foil hat conservatives" just doesn't mean diddly compared to "rich, left wing whackos and latte leftists" - the latter has an acquired and powerful meaning in today's political climate. Similarly, while many leftists would have severe problems living in Idaho or Utah, neither of those places have the same quick jab-power of France. In other words, Hibbits' language is playing into conservative frames. Maybe not his poll numbers, but his sour curmudgeonyness for sure.

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    I screwed up and didn't close an italic bracket properly. I don't know how to fix it. Can anyone say?

    This draws my attention to a problem with the redesign (maybe the old design too). There is no explanation of how to get more info on how typepad works, and no FAQ on fixing glitches.

    It occurred to me that mysterious trackback feature offered in the comment box might be what you use to fix something or maybe enter a new link, but I don't really know and I can't get the trackback link to do anything except give me a number -- but what do I do with the number? Or trackback might be something else entirely.

  • Cindy (unverified)

    Until progressives can come together with what we can all stand for we will be attacked by many and continue to respond defensively. We're a fragmented group. We've got some work to do. What do we stand for?

  • (Show?)

    Chris, I fixed the itals thing. When you use an out-of-the-box blogging system, there are advantages and weaknesses. One of the weaknesses of Typebad (our software) is that it allows editorial controls only by the author of threads or the owner of the blog. On my own threads I can close an itals, but not on someone else's (Kari has to do that)--and commenters can never re-write their comments. One way to avoid the problem is hit "preview" before you hit "post"--but I recognize it's easy to forget.

  • (Show?)

    Nice analysis, Chris. Much more reality there than in anything Hibbits has to say.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Ephemeral: short, short-lived, of lasting duration.

    Okay, I looked it up.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    Tim Hibbits and I were class mates at Portland State in the early 70's. I remember him in a political science class (Instructor Charles White) as a very intelligent, outspoken and informed person. His participation in discussions re Viet Nam and other topics of the day were the highlights of my college years at Portland State.

    Obviously, I think Portland being the first city to not participate in the JTTF is not a sign that something is wrong with Portland but, rather, why aren’t other US cities asking the same legitimate questions we are about the FBI's use of their local police forces?

    But I digress from what I wanted to comment on. I was content to read the post and comments until I read Cindy's insightful comments;

    "Until progressives can come together with what we can all stand for we will be attacked by many and continue to respond defensively. We're a fragmented group. We've got some work to do. What do we stand for?"

    Cindy, that is exactly the right question. In fact, in my opinion, there is no question that is more important to answer if progressive voters want to coalesce all of our divergent strengths into a potent voting force.

    Our political base and power should be working class Portlander's. However, many of my friends in the Democratic Party are, to be polite, derisive of organized labor. Organized labor knows that opinion is held of them and, therefore, feel disconnected and alienated from Oregon's Democrats.

    On the other hand, many in the organized labor movement are, again to be polite, contemptuous of progressive "greens". The greens know that and… well, revert back to the prior paragraph to figure out the dysfunctional dynamic between these two groups.

    I walk in both camps and am often distressed at how much we lose because we cannot support each others agenda. The goals of labor and environmental groups are not at odds and in fact are, I have argued many times, complimentary.

    I would love to see a strong movement within the Oregon Democratic Party to address bringing together organized labor and the environmental movement both within and outside of the Democratic Party. In my opinion, those two forces joining together could be the base from which we could redefine politics in Oregon...if not the U.S.

  • dispossessed (unverified)

    In my view it isn't organized labor Democrats are derisive of, Commissioner Leonard. Most organized labor consists of public employee blocs (unions), and Democrats are inordinately supportive of those.

    It is disorganized labor, the working poor, the working class, the broad swath of normal middle class people outside organized blocs, unions or interest groups that the organized Democrats and self-titled "progressives" are ignorant of and virtually completely disinterested in. In fact, they are antipathetic to them, though they may not belief it to be so, unless individuals in these cast-off classes fall into some particular social-care category.

    I would like the "progressives" to see past their own insider interests and politics and policies to see how some of them do nothing to better life for most of those who comprise their taxpayer support. As the Forbes report earlier this year helped document, this group is more heavily taxed than the upper classes in Portland.

    Flat out wrong.

  • socialchange (unverified)

    Those on the political left in this state, besides working to join the "unions" and the "greens", would also be wise to reach out to the growing foreign-born population in Oregon. Between 1990 and 2000 the Hispanic population grew by 144% in the state, largely due to legal and illegal immigration from Mexico. The state was 8% Hispanic as of the 2000 Census, and this number is likely in the double digits by now.

    Immigration has the potential to fracture the right nationally and in the state. Hard-core conservatives such as Lars Larson have been viscious in their attacks on this population, making little effort to distinguish between such concepts as "Hispanic" and "Illegal", in an age-old attempt to paint foreign-born Hispanics as a scourge on society. He trots out the same old arguments: Hispanics disproportionately commit more crimes, they are a drain on state resources, and they take jobs from natives. No social-scientific research exists to support these claims, yet Lars forges ahead.

    For example, he blames the state for perpetuating the "illegal problem" by issuing driver's licenses to those in the country without documents. His solution? stop doing it, in which case life would be so difficult for them that they would go back to Mexico. What an absurd speculation! The undocumented have risked their lives and likely paid what is to them, a lot of money to get into the country, and are not likely to be discouraged by the lack of a driver's license. Rather, they would be likely to drive without a license, insurance, and generally participate in an underground cash economy that would expand rapidly and serve as a vortex for criminal activity unenforcable by our already strapped local law enforcement agencies. Why push a poor and desperate population further to the margins? (It seems that one of the great successes of the right has been to paint liberalism as all bleeding-heart, no reason. Nothing could be further from the truth).

    I view the issuance of state driver's lisences to the undocumented as a reasonable survival strategy for the state, who is left to deal with the day-to-day social challenges that any foreign-born group brings to its host society. Those in national government, I perceive, enjoy being able to take a "hands-off" approach to the immigration issue, as this avoids any confrontation with elite business interests who depend on a low-skilled immigrant labor force. In contrast, Lars likely views the issuance of driver's lisences to this population by the state as a political tactic of the far left to push its liberal agenda, rather than the common sense perspective I favor. I don't know what Lars is reading, as he still seems to be under the impression that the US economy could survive without foreign-born labor. For those of us not living on the planet Lars, we are way beyond the point of recognizing that foreign-born labor drives the economy, and will continue to do so given simple demographic facts such as our aging native-born population, acknowlegement, of which, I might add, makes me hard-pressed to conclude that Lars's rantings about the "illegal problem" are motivated by anything other than xenophobia.

    <h2>This brings me back to my point, which is that the sooner the left incorporates the growing foreign-born population into their movement the better, for they are the social and political future of this state and country. To answer Cindy's question: perhaps the embracing of the foreign-born population in Oregon is an adherence to the priniciple of "majority-rule and minority-rights", however one wants to interpret it.</h2>

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