Bill Clinton wants to come to Reed

Paul Gronke

I did an AP interview two days ago about Hillary Clinton's rural strategy that she is exporting from Pennsylvania to Oregon.  I didn't think the topic was too controversial--comparing rural Pennsylania to rural Oregon is like apples to rutabaga, and I told the reporter so.

Pennsylvania is one of the original colonies.  Its population is the second oldest in the country, after Florida, and there ain't too many retirees heading to PA.  Rural Pennsylvania's heyday was in the early part of the 20th century, when Standard Oil was bringing in wells, United Steel ruled in Pittsburgh and Youngstown, and when anthracite coal fueled the steam locomotives and heated our homes.

Today, it is an old state.  It is almost the definition of the rust belt.  Its politics are a hodgepodge of ethnicity,  religiosity (mainly Catholic with smatterings of Quakers and significant Amish).  I don't think it's too controversial to call it's politics "old." 

Apparently President Clinton disagrees. He thinks I dissed rural Oregon, said they didn't matter (never said that at all), and am exacerbating urban/suburban/rural divides (I'm not the one pursuing a "rural strategy", I'm the one saying a strategy built in PA won't export to OR).

I don't think they believe that one rural voter is the same as another.  That range interests are the same as grange interests.  That the timber economy is the same as the coal economy.  That the kind of politics that sells in PA will sell in OR.

OR is younger.  It is gaining, not losing population.  And it's politics has a progressive, libertarian streak which is very different from PA.  Besides, the numbers don't lie.  To win OR, you have to win the Willamette Valley. 

At least President Clinton said good things about my school.  And Bill wants to come to Reed, drop me an email.  We can make it happen and get him a good venue.

  • bb (unverified)

    We love president Clinton. Welcome back to Portland Mr Clinton.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Bill Clinton is trying to sell that "elitist" argument in rural Oregon to tone down the Obama victory that will happen here. (Elitist is the code word for black of course.)

    But heck.. Reed College is pretty tolerant, even of sexual predators.

  • (Show?)

    Man, you're my hero, Paul. A guy like me can only dream to be called out by a former president.

  • hmnnmm (unverified)

    Hillary Clinton twisting someone's words? Shocker.

  • anonymous (unverified)
    Posted by: Paddy McGuire | Apr 23, 2008 1:11:28 PM Charlie, Here's how I see it happening: She wins Indiana (despite him being from next door), loses NC by single digits and splits the last seven states. Then the superdelegates do their job and decide who is the best candidate to defeat John McCain, taking into consideration the fact that she has won a large proportion of the big states that are critical to victory in the fall.

    Is Oregon "a big state that is critical to victory in the fall"?

    IF YES, what are you going to say when Hillary loses Oregon?

    IF NO, why push for debates? Why is Bill Clinton here?

    According to Paddy, the superdels make the decision, and they DO NOT take Oregon into consideration for that decision.

    When a member of Hillary's Oregon steering committee says Oregon doesn't matter, he has no credibility to call for debates, and voters have no reason to vote for Hillary.

  • (Show?)

    Paul, I don't buy the "old state vs. new state" frame.

    Your point that there is more than one kind of rural is more on the mark, and applies within Oregon as well as between OR & PA. It sorta looks like the Clintons might not be completely clueless about that -- the rural southwestern Oregon counties have considerably more population than those in the SE of the state. Also, West of Cascades "rural" in Oregon may be more like PA than you suggest, since it is pretty population-dense compared to say Midwest rural or E. Washington rural. And much of that "rural" is in the W. Valley, so rural vs. Valley seems to be something of a false distinction.

    Anyway, lets say you're right the the W. Valley is the main center of action, if Obama has an edge there in the cities & maybe (or maybe not?) the 'burbs, but Clinton remains somewhat competitive, why is it a bad idea to try to make up some difference on the "rural" margins inside and around the Valley, especially given that Valley rural/small town is fairly dense population-wise?

    More abstractly: Is rural Oregon gaining population? Is there really no tangency between timber & mill communities hammered by job losses due to industry decline and industrial decline in "rural" (=smallish but not tiny town) rust belt states?

    BTW if you think back you may recall that Oregon, & especially the rural Valley & west of Cascades, actually is one of the oldest areas of the West, in terms of agricultural settlement, dating back to the 1840s & 1850s -- and much of it settled by people who came from the Northeast states, tho' thats a bit less true as you go further south where immigrants were more southern. Anyhoo, there's a reason why Oregon had statehood before the Civil War along with California, and considerabley before Washington & the intermountain West.

    But this is a pretty typical rhetorical trick of Bill's, anyway -- it doesn't matter what you really said, the point is to appeal to rural resentment at being ignored (oops, did I almost say "bitterness"?). And at the end of the day your "to win Oregon you have to win the Willamette Valley" comment here still leaves you open to being read as saying rural Oregon doesn't matter.

    If one understands that much of the Valley is rural, and if that was part of how you were looking at the Valley, it becomes a misreading of course. But misrepresenting pointy-headed Reed intellectuals to score political points is a fine old Oregon tradition, which again suggests Bill might not be clueless, or at least smart enough to listen to local supporters.

    (Damn, where did I put that head-sharpener anyway?)

  • LT (unverified)

    "comparing rural Pennsylania to rural Oregon is like apples to rutabaga, and I told the reporter so."

    LOL Paul! I will have to remember that comparison.

    Seriously, a cousin of mine lives in Kennett Square, PA.

    On a visit out here, we once toured the Oregon capitol. "Gee, everything here is so much newer than in PA" my cousin said. Our capitol was built in the 1930s when the old one burned down. Except maybe Waller Hall at Willamette U. and a few other structures, Oregon is considerably newer than Penn. What we consider "old" they consider relatively new--comes from being one of the original colonies.

    Wonder how many folks like Steve Bucknum or Chuck Butcher there are in Penn.

    Who in Oregon politics is the counterpart of Ed Rendell? Bob Casey? Are the Sisters of the Holy Name and other pioneer Catholics in Oregon like the Quakers who settled Pennsylvania?

    Just for fun, I did a web search on what was going on in 1859 Pennsylvania while Oregon was becoming a state and found that there was a very famous oil well dug on a farm in Penn. that year.

    BTW, I couldn't make the "disagrees" link work.

    This sounds like the proverbial grasping at straws, or as an old friend says, "when they act like that, you know they know they are losing".

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Well LT, I've been told by people who actually like me that one of me is entirely sufficient. I don't know about PA, but I was raised in a fairly rural section of Ohio, it was different. Rural also means something different there than our here in E OR, a simple enough measure is that the 2nd CD is larger than any state E of the Mississippi, evidently they get to .5M in less area.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Oregon has one of the least churched populations in the country. Seems like it was 18% or something like that. Rural Oregon is much more on the libertarian side of Republican than the social conservative side, despite the fundamentalist dominance of the Repug party. At any rate the notion that Bill or Hillary Clinton is a draw for rural Oregon is ludicrous. The Clintons are hated in rural Oregon. And they associate him with the closing down of the timber economy. And his sexual problem and association with the Hollywood elites, Barbara Streisand et al, doesn't really endear him with redneck Oregon. That part of Oregon is going pretty much McCain anyway. Exceptions being places like Bend or Ashland. The people I know in Klamath and Lake Co. despise the Clintons and what they stand for with a passion. They certainly aren't going to buy into Bill and Hillary Clinton in the same frame as the bumper sticker of "God, guns, and guts." (ROFLOL) That con might have sold a little in Pa, but not in rural Oregon by any means.

  • tb (unverified)

    I haven't been by Reed in a while, but I have a hunch that Obama is rather more popular there than HRC.

  • BloodDAnna (unverified)

    "redneck Oregon", I'm not sure where in the state you mean exactly.

  • Missy (unverified)

    I've read your posts and many others on BlueOregon de-bunking the Clinton campaign, but never thought any of my fellow Blue Oregonians would become national news. That has to feel pretty neat to get your message out in a presidential contest!

    The Obama campaign really ought to be using you to talk to the new Oregon.

    Way to go, Paul!

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    "redneck Oregon", ?

    Red-neck as a term comes from those people who are likely to make their living outdoors, hence sun exposure and a red-neck. The red-neck Oregon I am most familiar with is Southern and Eastern Oregon, (the Greg Walden Congressional Dist) people who have traditionally made their living from ranching, farming, timber, or connected economies. They are the people I mostly grew up with. Many of those people look upon Bill Clinton as the one who closed the lumber mills for his spotted owl plan. They see him as sexual pervert who used troopers or the power of his office to procure his women. They see Hillary as a woman who put up with it to take the ride to political power herself.The game the Clintons are playing with the "rural" people is using encoded language to marginalize Obama as the "black" candidate. I don't think anyone is really fooled by that. You either buy into it, or you are disgusted by it. It's absurd and funny to see the Clintons accuse Obama of being elitist. These people who have been the power elite for a decade and a half, and who have made 109 million $ peddling their influence. They are not "elitist"?? But here the term "elitist" is a code word, for "not one of us." That's code for "He's a big city Chicago black man."

  • Misha (unverified)

    The Clinton campaign clearly understands that "Reed College professor disses rural Oregon" plays into the campaign's theme of Hillary as a scrappy fighter for the average American versus Barack as an urban elitist.

    This has nothing to do with the merits of the substantive point that Professor Gronke made.

  • A. Rab. (unverified)

    FYI, the links are not working.

  • (Show?)

    Paul Gronke, Blue Oregon's own Sista Soulja.

  • (Show?)

    I don't doubt that rural Oregon on the whole will go for McCain in November. But that's not the question for the primary -- it's what the part of the rural electorate eligible to vote in the Dem primary will do (maybe 20%? of whole).

    Do the generalizations about rural Oregonians as a whole apply neatly to rural Oregon Democrats, who by definition are not typical in at least one politically significant respect?

    How are Oregon's rural Democrats similar and different from their neighbors, whether R, NAV, Constition Party, Libertarian ... ?

    (This is an actual serious question to which I do not know an answer, not a rhetorical one or a debating point. I'd like to learn from those who have informed views.)

  • Tom Soppe (unverified)

    You said rutabega! That's like saying arrugula! You elitist!

    You are now the pundits' enemy number one. Or you would be if you were running for president as a Democrat.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I looked at some data from the Survey USA polling. It seemed to me that the Dems in the outlying areas actually were going more for Obama than the urban Dems. I know a number of Dems in Klamath County. Those are the survivors of the Reagan era shift. Those who might be conservative Dems in Pa. are Republican or Independent in Oregon. The survivors tend to the left side of the dial. They form alliances with the ethnic Indian and Latinos. They find small comfort in belonging to the Sierra Club or listening to Public Radio , etc. That suggests that Paul's analysis is correct.

    The loss of timber jobs and unions meant the blue collar Dems are largely gone. Al Ullman was the Dem. rep from Oregon for years. He was their guy. After Denny Smith came along the Rs have controlled that part of the state since. Klamath County is now a controlled fiefdom of that feudal lord, Wendt, and his Jeld-Wen empire. None of this is likely to change unless there is an economic transformation of Eastern and Southern Oregon.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    It's interesting to see some of this debate framed in terms of "which definition of rural works for Oregon?" -- None.

    Oregon's "rural" is extremely diverse. Coastal rural is not like range land rural, is not like southern timber rural, is not like High Desert rural, and so on.

    The age thing made me laugh. Prineville was incorporated in the 1860's, and founded in the 1850's, way before many Willamette Valley towns. But some of the points were valid. In 1990, Crook County had about 11,000 people. We now have over 25,000 and many of the new comers are retiring here.

    And by the way - and of you who assume static state scenario's, think about what that population number means. In Central Oregon, the MAJORITY of people moved here in the last 15 years. So, any thoughts you have about trends in voting patterns might just be a little off.

  • (Show?)

    A few of us are old enough to remember the early to middle '70s when TrueHippies, disillusioned by the politics of both the left and right and the inevitable exploitation of the gullible in the Peace and Love movement, went Back to Nature. They were smart, educated and informed, and above all, uncompromising in their ethical outlook.

    Guess what. They're still out there in Veneta, Welches, Florence, Jacksonville, and so on. That demographic is probably to the Left of the Reedies.

    The other rural demographic has been described above and they're the ones who need to be reminded of exactly who was at the wheel when our tax codes were changed to favor the offshoring of their jobs and ultimately their way of life.

    A cold eyed assessment of responsibility for their current plight is something that neither Clinton, McCain, or for that matter Smith or Mannix would like to see.


    Anyhow, Paul, let me add my Attaboy here.

  • (Show?)

    Steve and Chris, thanks for the info. Although even with settlements in the 1840s, we're a good 150 years behind Pennsylvania.

    Does anyone has a comparative percentage of Oregonians and Pennsylvanians living in areas defined as rural? Or "small town"?

    I also meant "new" in the sense of Oregon's politics (particularly the Progressive / Populist bent).

    The whole state has experienced heavy in-migration in the last three decades, the complete opposite from Pennsylvania.

    If anything, the whole debate is encouraging the national media to think of Oregon as more than just Portland, which is a good thing.

  • (Show?)


    Way to go on being called out. Yer my hero. Seriously.

    I agree with your assesment and would simply add that Pennsyvlania and Oregon are very different also because 53% of Oregon is comprised of federal land, while Pennsyvlania is only 2.3% federal land. That means that while folks in Pennsyvlania may be restricted from certain activities by federal environmental regulation, they are not restricted access to lands in their state.

    In contrast, throughout rural communities across Oregon, folks have daily reminders that they do not own the land upon which they have relied for decades. The federal government can, on almost a moment's notice, restrict access to federal forests and grasslands. Oregon's rural people are therefore under the control of the federal government to a great extent, creating an entirely different perspective towards Washington than those living in Pennsylvania.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks everyone for informative discussion. Thanks for launching it, Paul. I see what you mean better now. Another Oregon "newness" fact(oid?): At every decennial census since 1850, more Oregonians have been born out of state than in state.

    Bill R., when you say the former blue collar Dems are largely gone, do you mean moved away? If so, interesting contrast to Steve B.'s point about central Oregon, & illustrating that the diversity of rural forms he mentions isn't just categorical but dynamic.

  • Mike Schryver (unverified)

    I lived in PA for 10 years before moving to Oregon, and before that grew up one state over, in NY. There is a political divide in both PA and OR, but ours is of a very different character than theirs. As others have pointed out, the conservatives there lean heavily toward the social conservative side, while ours have more of a libertarian streak. Also, once you get outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you're in red country almost immediately. I think the dropoff is a bit more gradual here. And I think a bigger percentage of our population is on the urban side of the divide than in PA; I have no numbers to back that up. The Democrats here are way, way more progressive than in PA. Kristin's point about the percentage of federal land also leads to a big difference in the character of the rural areas. Also, to put it bluntly, there are fewer racists here than in PA (although from what I've seen, we have our share.)

    I think the Clintons will have a lot more trouble wooing rural Oregon than they did Pennsylvania.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    I spent most of my first 25 years in rural Pennsylvania. Gronke describes well the important political differences between there and Oregon. PA has millions of people living in small towns and the countryside, and lots of them are Democrats. They used to be union Democrats before the unions were marginalized. Now they are Democrats out of an ambiguous conception of class politics. They are not particularly socially progressive. There is quite a bit of residual racism and homophobia among them. They are a lot like rural Oregonians, who register Republican instead of Democrat, because, well, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is the belief that Democrats are communists hiding behind environmentalism. Perhaps it is because they incorrectly perceive the level of benefit from public spending going to their areas.

  • former student (unverified)


    keep kicking neo-liberal a**!!!!!

  • Tinashe Mashungu (unverified)
    <h2>Paul Gronke, could you please shed light on the Florida-Michigan mess.</h2>

connect with blueoregon