So how did a debate to choose the leader of the Free World get to Rosie O’Donnell?
Did somebody switch last Monday’s presidential debate with a rerun of “The View?”
What happened, of course, was that toward the end, as Hillary Clinton was reproving Donald Trump for unpleasant things he’d said about women – a subject that could have extended the debate until the candidates were appearing on “Good Morning America” – Trump, with his best I’m-a-naughty-boy face, protested, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
He hadn’t really forgotten which woman he was running against, of course – but the name had been a sure-fire laugh line in Republican debates, and he thought he’d toss it out.
There were a number of odd appearances in the debate – Trump seeing how many times in a minute he could say “stamina,” Clinton seizing the first opportunity to mention her granddaughter, and seeming about to produce photos – but what was striking was what didn’t appear.
After the debate, the statistical web site fivethirtyeight.com tabulated how often each state was mentioned. New York, home of both candidates and the debate, came up six times, followed by Illinois with four, mostly on the Chicago murder rate, and Ohio with three, as a poster child for job loss.
Neither Oregon nor Washington, of course, got mentioned at all. California – big place south of here, maybe you’ve heard of it – came up exactly once.
West Coasters are a quiet, modest people, and it’s not like we’re dying to be mentioned – it’s a presidential debate, after all, not a yearbook. But this did mean that our particular interests didn’t come up much.
For Donald Trump, trade is as big an automatic punch line as Rosie O’Donnell, and he spent much of the debate – his most focused parts – denouncing international trade agreements, pledging to toss out and rewrite all of them. It’s worked well in the Rust Belt, where outsourcing is blamed for job losses, and people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats argue about how high we should build The Wall.
But out here on the Left Coast – where candidates not only don’t mention us in debates, but visit only occasionally for fund-raising events – our experience is different. Our economy is deeply tied to international trade, and telling Asia to get lost could actually be a problem here.
In 2013, the Port of Portland estimated that nearly half a million local jobs were in some way connected to foreign trade. The driving engines of our economy, high tech and sports apparel, are rooted overseas like a PDX flight from Tokyo. We’ve also spent decades, with gradual success, working to sell Northwest agricultural products to Asia, and garnishing them with an ultimatum could leave us with a lot of fruit on our hands.
And that stuff can go bad while you’re choosing gold plumbing fixtures for the White House.
Like we say, we don’t demand a lot of attention, or a specific debate question on either pears or Air Jordans. But from our perspective, a debate on trade might at least notice that trade goes both ways, and that in a trade war we might be the designated hostages.
We have another particular regional concern that didn’t come up much. In Oregon, and the West Coast in general, we have considerable interest in environmental issues; a recent Washington Post survey found environmental interest highest in Oregon and Hawaii. This summer, the three West Coast states, feeling the Pacific lapping ever closer, signed another agreement with British Columbia, and the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., to advance clean energy and limit carbon emissions.
Somehow, in a debate focused on national security, this question never really came up, although the Defense Department recently labelled global warming a major national security threat. The only time the subject surfaced, Clinton attacked Trump for saying that global warming was a hoax devised by the Chinese – which he denied, although there is some awkward evidence in print.
At least there were no threats about a tougher trade line with British Columbia.
As noted, we on the West Coast are simple folks who largely keep to ourselves, whatever the national media keep saying about Hollywood and high tech and Nike and Starbucks. So if a candidate wants to figure that our economy is irrelevant, and that global warming is just a matter of Szechwan cuisine, we just go online and sob quietly into our latte.
Still, it would be nice to think that in a presidential debate we got as much attention as Rosie O’Donnell.
NOTE: This column appearedc in The Sunday Oregoniuan, 10/2/16.