Monday, January 19, 2009

NYT reports on political shift in Oklahoma, with no mention of the rural

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the buckle of the McCain belt in the 2008 Presidential election. The headline is, "In McCain Country, Acceptance of Obama Grows." The story is basically about how residents of the state, where Obama carried not a single county, are making peace with having Obama as President. It's not that residents of the state, where two of three voters supported McCain, have really had a conversion experience or that there would be a different outcome if the vote were today. The gist of the report is more that voters there accept the outcome of the democratic process. Chris Benge, speaker of the Oklahoma House, is quoted as saying, “Oklahomans understand and respect the elections process . . . . Once the president has been determined, the vast majority of people are willing to get behind him.”

Johnson reports that other Oklahomans have become more open minded about Obama because of his selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at tomorrow's inauguration. Johnson quotes the minister of a Tulsa mega church, Billy Joe Daugherty: “What I’m sensing from Obama in making the choice he did — he’s saying to all groups, ‘Why don’t we come together?’ ”

Given NYT reporters' propensity to suggest that rural voters are racist (see posts about other NYT stories here, here, and here), I'm surprised that Johnson doesn't play that card in this report. Johnson does note that, in Tulsa, 15% of residents are African American and 7% are Hispanic, while 70% are white. Interestingly, he does not mention the history of racial tensions--even a 1921 riot--in this particular city.

What Johnson also does not report is that, looking at the entire state, 80% of residents are white, while only 8% are African American. Another 7.3% are American Indian. He also does not mention that, by some measures (in particular, population clusters with fewer than 50,000), 63% of the state's populace is rural. (By the U.S. Census Bureau definition, which defines rural as including population clusters with fewer than 2,500 and open space, 31% of Oklahomans live in rural places.) So, if Oklahoma is shifting--however subtly and for whatever reasons--it is, at least in part, a story about rural America.

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