Well, the South Dakota GOP has decided not to take any chances, and has rolled out a campaign ad attacking Mr. Varilek for his globe-trotting, carbon-trading, and corndog-eating ways (yes, corndogs). The video was uploaded to Youtube on October 17, and veered so close to parody in its depiction of Varilek's educational background and international travel that I called the South Dakota GOP to check if the video is legitimate (it is.)
Will the video have an impact on the race? I don't know. But there is a kernel of serious concern for me in the fact that international experience and a concern for the environment are being painted as suspicious and perhaps dangerous in a campaign for national office.
Varilek apparently worked at the Biosphere II, "known as an incubator of radical environmental ideas," the ad warns, (a Monitor article in 1987 called it "a sophisticated laboratory to study Earth ecology, perhaps yielding clues on such phenomena as the 'greenhouse effect' and the impact of creeping deserts in Africa"; in 2009, staff writer Pete Spotts wrote about how scientists there were studying how rising temperatures could kill trees.)
It then contrasts how Varilek earned a master's degree at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1999, and went to work as a carbon broker for Natsource, an investment firm focused on profiting from renewable energy and emissions markets, against Ms. Noem's apparently more wholesome decision to work on the family farm. In 2001, Varilek heads to Cambridge University for a second master's degree in Environment and Development and speaks at a UN global warming summit in Morocco, while Noem is "living in Castlewood South Dakota, farming, raising a family, helping to balance the books and manage a family restaurant." (Ms. Noem did receive a degree herself in political science from South Dakota State University in 2011).
The ad continues in this vein; in 2003, Varilek, apparently suspiciously, attended a global warming summit in Milan, Italy, while Noem was receiving a Young Leader award from the South Dakota Soybean Association; in 2004, he went to work as "Washington DC political staffer" (he served as South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson's economic development director) and then it gets well, really weird. "In 2006 Matt Varilek hosts a raucous national corndog day party in his swanky DC neighborhood." (This may be the first time that "swanky" and "corndog" have ever appeared in the same sentence.)
Apparently, alcohol was also served at the party. In 2008, he finally returns home to South Dakota. Corndogs were consumed once more.
I don't usually cover national US politics, and I know next to nothing about South Dakota's politics or the specific concerns of its electorate. I have no idea which candidate will better serve their constituents in Washington.
But there is a certain sneering contempt for international experience and high levels of education in corners of America that this campaign ad seems to typify. Environmental issues? One can argue about whether economic interests should be sacrificed for environmental ones, but efforts to create a market in carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions is, well, a market-oriented approach.
When did education and international experience become black marks for legislators?