Nicholas Kristof’s Agenda for Oregon: More Magical Thinking

The cat’s out of the bag. 

Gubernatorial hopeful Nicholas Kristof is just another classic tax-and-spend liberal promising more free stuff.  Secretary of State Shemia Fagan may have determined that Kristof doesn’t meet Oregon’s residency requirement to qualify to run for governor, but he has made it clear he doesn’t plan to drop out.

His agenda for Oregon reminds me of an observation by American journalist and cultural critic H.L. Mencken that the principal device of many seeking to get and hold office in government “… is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them.”

In a January 3, 2022, newsletter, Kristof lamented that Americans aren’t guaranteed health insurance, dental care, Internet access, shelter, child-care, jobs, free pre-K and so much more. “Some of (these) services would be difficult or expensive to provide, but the same was true of universal postal service and electrical power,” he asserted.

Is there anything on that list you haven’t heard people such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal advocate? 

Is there anything on that list Tina Kotek, another gubernatorial hopeful and a key member of the Democratic party’s left wing, wouldn’t support?

The fact is Kristof’s agenda is a list of proposed entitlements for Oregonians that would be almost guaranteed to become more costly over time and, like opiates, become addictive.  

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, a book written by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, has been widely praised for its empathetic portrayal of struggling Americans. I’ve read the book. What has been less noted is how the book excuses individuals from responsibility for life’s travails and makes them victims of circumstance. 

Even the Goodreads summary of the book sees things this way, attributing personal failures to public policy, not personal choices: “Taken together, these accounts provide a picture of working-class families needlessly but profoundly damaged as a result of decades of policy mistakes.”

As one reviewer put it, “Where this book struggles is the complete removal of personal responsibility for any of life’s difficulties, instead completely shifting this to the failings of Government and Society in general. I do think this can play part of a role in the situations people find themselves in, but personal drive and responsibility has to be a factor, or even a government program cannot succeed.” 

Another reviewer expressed a similar concern: “My opinion is that Kristof focuses more on the lack of safety nets that let his friends down instead of the real culprits: Parenting and personal responsibility. The friends and families I knew did not shoot guns at their spouses, engage in criminal activity as children, or begin using drugs at a young age. These are behavioral patterns that are passed down from parent to child, not something that befalls them only as a result of bad luck. To give this perspective so little attention in his book is shortsighted.”

As a conservative, I find Kristof’s approach to social issues troubling and worry it would guide his approaches to governing.

I also worry that, in any case, he’s simply not prepared to lead Oregon, increasing the likelihood he would be an incompetent governor and make things worse.

In a time when for some people the words “political experience” are a slur, Kristof is trying to get around his inexperience by likening himself to innovative and widely admired former Oregon governor Tom McCall, who served during 1967-75. 

“I bring the same experience that Tom McCall brought when he was elected,” Kristof told Willamette Week. “McCall, of course, was a journalist who had never been in the Legislature. And what he brought was a skill set that I think is essential for a successful governor. It’s articulating a vision for the state to rally people around that agenda and then using the convening power of the office to help achieve it.”

Chuck Sheketoff, former director of the left-leaning Oregon Center for Public Policy, has bought into Kristof’s argument. “In the current political environment, it’s refreshing to have someone who doesn’t have baggage and history,” Sheketoff said in November 2021.

Only somebody who knows their candidate lacks qualifications for the job they’re seeking would say this.

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