by Ted S. McGregor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ack in the summer of 2004, as Ohio was locking away all its extra voting machines and John Kerry was getting swift-boated, a little book came out that put a finger on the pulse of our wacky national political scene. In What's the Matter with Kansas?, a perplexed local boy, Thomas Frank, tried to understand why Kansans seemed so completely unhinged from reality. "Small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land," Frank wrote of his people, "blue-collar workers in Midwestern burgs cheering as they deliver up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life..."
Kansas makes no sense, Frank argued, especially when you consider that the social issues they seem to crave are not being translated into new laws. Additionally, Kansans and other conservatives are finding a shocking number of their culture warriors wear the bogus "breastplate of righteousness," as sociologist Laud Humphreys called the phenomenon of gays who pose as ultra-hetero to deflect attention away from their sexuality. Case in point: Sen. Larry Craig, who, despite his denials, seems to be yet another anti-gay gay politician.
& lt;/span & In the aftermath of the Craig scandal, the nation has been treated to a peek inside our little corner of the country. And one of the best tour guides around has been Bruce Reed, whose "The Has-Been" column on Slate.com has been all-Craig, all-the-time lately. Ironically, Reed may be the most important politician from Idaho; it's ironic because he's a Democrat. The former chief domestic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed now serves as president of the influential Democratic Leadership Council in Washington, D.C.
Like Frank before him, Reed seems to be wondering aloud, "What's the matter with Idaho?" And it's personal, as Reed grew up in Coeur d'Alene, where, his dad Scott reports, he was a bit of a late political bloomer; he waited until he was 4 years old to haul his first campaign flyers around the neighborhood. But understanding his own home state has proven Bruce Reed's toughest challenge yet, requiring every bit of wisdom he can squeeze out of his Oxford degree.
"Other states expect a lot from government and from their elected leaders," Reed writes on Slate. "As a result, Idaho often seems like the Lake Wobegon of American politics, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the politicians are below average.
"But in many ways, the Craig affair is a perfect storm of the suspicions that make Idahoans so conflicted about politics in the first place. As a rule, we don't trust government, we don't trust politicians and we've always had our doubts about public restrooms."
In Kansas, farmers once marched against big money schemers, helping to launch the national Populist movement; Idaho, too, was not always a Republican paradise. "[Idaho] had been a Democratic stronghold half a century ago and a Socialist hotbed half a century before that," Reed writes.
Times change and so do political parties. Heck, it wasn't all that long ago that the GOP stood for balanced budgets and minding our own business out in the world.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & experienced a bi-coastal upbringing, Inland Northwest style; one set of grandparents lived in Coeur d'Alene, the other in Spokane. My take is that North Idaho has always been more of an independent, leave-us-the-hell-alone kind of place than an ideological, do-what-the-party-tells-us kind of place. But lately, it's swinging, and the national party has to be delighted.
Last year, in a crowded primary field, Bill Sali got a big boost of cash from the Club For Growth; essentially, that D.C. interest group was able to choose North Idaho's congressman for them. And with the Larry Craig news, Idaho dropped its longtime champion like a hot potato. (Sure, Craig appears to be a hypocrite who could never be effective again, but would a molecule of loyalty be too much to ask?) It was almost as if the locals were reading the GOP talking points -- get this scandal off the front page ASAP.
So is Idaho being played? Will there be any kind of backlash? What is the matter with Idaho?
In my opinion, it's the same thing that's wrong with Kansas -- the people just trusted too much.
"If Missouri is the Show-Me State, Idaho is the Don't-Show-Me State," Reed writes. "Voters have been content to know that Craig is Republican; anything else would be too much information. If you want to know why we chose to live in our own private Idaho, this case seems like a pretty good reason."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ill a day of reckoning come in places like Idaho and Kansas? It may, as Rudy Giuliani inches closer to the GOP nomination as the most gay-friendly Republican, perhaps ever. I like that about him, among other things, but what about all those people who have been trained, Pavlov-like, to vote against anything that comes within a mile of being gay?
Maybe the answer is in a passing reference Reed makes in one of his columns, of how Rudy was greeted in the Lake City with a gaggle of supporters for Ron Paul, the Republican presidential candidate who comes closest to being a true libertarian. Maybe somewhere in all this betrayed trust, the seed of something new -- perhaps some kind of popu-libertarianism -- is being planted.
"Garrison Keillor once said that folks in Lake Wobegon believe in forgiving their neighbor, but first they want to hear details," Reed writes. "Idahoans are in no mood to forgive Craig. But -- Jiminy God! -- we've heard enough details."
If Idaho's voters are going to start to stand for something other than business as usual, they need to start listening to the details again.