PORTLAND, ORE. — Time to dump the Electoral College? If that happens, I won't expect to see any presidential candidates stumping in my home territory ever again. Hey, if you're trying to catch a lot of fish, common sense says to throw your nets into deep lakes where the big schools hang out, and don't waste time trolling around little duck ponds.
I happen to think the status quo is fine. To me, the presidency is the ultimate "at large" position. The Founding Fathers wanted a chief executive who would consider the needs of our whole nation, not just a few power centers. It's a big country, and we all count, even citizens who live in the far corners.
On election night, one of the local TV anchors here in Portland made a typical gaffe in this regard as he reported some numbers for a statewide race. "These early returns are from the metro area," he said. "We still haven't heard any results from the ... [pause] ... um, hinterlands."
The hinterlands? Ah yes, we all know where those are located. If I'm not mistaken, they're way beyond Palookaville, halfway to oblivion. I don't think the anchor realized how much his comment revealed about the unspoken attitudes that permeate many newsrooms and political organizations.
"Stan, do we have word yet from the boondocks? The hill people?"
Okay, I'm kidding now. Nobody really said that. But I know it's exactly what a lot of pundits and viewers are thinking these days. Like many states, Oregon's population is split between a few urbanized areas and numerous rural communities. It's a situation that creates interesting contrasts in political beliefs, but most TV reporters don't have much contact with citizens outside the city limits unless there's a farmhouse crime or entertaining animal story.
"Stan, I see some new numbers on the tote board. Are those results from the bumpkin strongholds?"
"Not yet Biff, we're still hearing mostly from PLU neighborhoods - you know, People Like Us. Normal folks, is what I'm trying to say."
I'm surprised the TV people don't slip up more often. Their emphasis on presenting stories in the simplest possible terms makes it easy to view every issue as a fight between two opposing forces: kids versus adults, old versus new, and of course, progressive versus hayseed.
Also, by avoiding direct contact with a particular group, our notions about them will often end up being based on what we read in the papers or see in movies.
"Here we go Stan, finally some tallies from the nether regions, and as we expected, they're voting against many of the ballot measures that are supported around this area."
"But Biff, it doesn't look like they'll be able to turn the tide, luckily. Odd folks out there. Have you ever interviewed any of them?"
"No, but I saw 'Deliverance.' That was enough for me."
"Oh yeah, cool film. And someone told me it was all true!"
If the Electoral College disappears, this kind of thinking will move to a national level, and we smaller states will be swept into the fringes of the presidential campaign arena, and the bottom of every consultant's priority list.
At that point, I will have no other choice than to personally seek out the presidential contenders in more populous venues, just to remind them we are still here. I will call out, loudly, in the spirit of an earlier commander in chief who knew the importance of reaching across cultural dividing lines. And this will be my rallying cry: Ich bin ein hinterlander!
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