Bill Keller visits sweet, quiet Oxford

. . . and reports on what he calls the Republican Id.

I never experienced Oxford as Republican as Keller sees it.  In fact, it seemed like a little blue oasis in a sea of Butler County red, but maybe that was just me and my neighbors in the Mile Square.  And FWIW, I never met any Miami faculty like Rich Hart (what an ironic name for a glibertarian free marketeer!)  But maybe it has changed in the 11 years since I lived there.

(True confession:  Fratguy and I changed our party registration to Republican on the day of the Republican primary in 2000 so that we could vote for John McCain and therefore–we hoped–stop George W. Bush!  Sorry, America–we failed.  Also, another true fact:  Oxford is the only place I ever voted that used punchcard ballots, as in the ballots with the potential for “hanging chads.”)

This was the most interesting part of the article: 

The one area where [Ayn] Ryan’s libertarian mentor is utterly out of sync with the Republican ticket is on social issues like abortion rights and gay marriage. “I want the Democrats out of my damn pocketbook,” he said, “and I want the Republicans out of my bedroom.”

This is also where Miami University’s student body is about as liberal as the rest of its generation, according to the university’s own research. Ryan’s no-exceptions opposition to abortion and embrace of the Defense of Marriage Act are such anathema here that the campus Republican chairman, Baylor Myers, told me his executive committee voted to avoid social issues altogether.

“We won’t discuss it this election,” he said. “Our entire focus is economic.” He added that he wished the national Republican Party would drop abortion from its platform and “reform its position” on gay rights. Because if the economy revives and questions of jobs and growth no longer overshadow issues of personal liberty, [Ayn] Ryan can no longer count on being the big man on this campus.

It’s a nice idea, but I don’t think it will happen unless evangelical protestants decide to stand down on these issues first.  There’s nowhere else in our two-party system for right-wing social issues voters to go, and they’re still a key constituency in the modern GOP.  My bet is that Ayn Ryan was a lot like his counterparts at Miami are now back when he was in college with respect to the “social issues,” but  he saw which way the wind was blowing in the 1990s and 2000s and decided to jump aboard the Crazy Train rather than be left behind at the station.  (Or stuck in a small town teaching economics to suburban Ohioans!)

17 thoughts on “Bill Keller visits sweet, quiet Oxford

  1. FWIW, here’s what I’d say (at least in part) is going on with the depiction of Oxford/Miami/SW Ohio generally. Basically, I think that in the past 10 years (and over the past 3 presidential elections) the media has become more and more invested in the “trend story” of Ohio as a state divided, a state whose divisions symbolize the Divisions of All America. Now, historically, it’s always been true that SW Ohio is the conservative part of the state and NE Ohio is the liberal part. But as I’ve been reading national stories about the presidential race in Ohio, most notably in the NY Times, I’ve noticed that they are painting the two corners of the state as like being two different worlds, which sure, for Ohio they kinda are, but the difference between Cincinnati/Dayton and Cleveland/Akron is NOT like the difference between NYC/Buffalo (for example). And this isn’t the way things are being reported in local papers/tv.

    I always remember Miami as being perceived as “conservative,” but then, I went to Kent, and we all know what that means. But yeah, from my student perspective, Miami came off VERY conservative (and every person I know who went there for undergrad – and I know a lot of people who did – even if they identify as democrats and have liberal positions on political issues (which is the minority), tends to be very conventional/conservative in the way that they live and in the choices that they made regarding marriage/where to live/etc.). Obviously this is anecdotal, but given the above, I was not surprised at all that Ryan got his B.A. there and emerged with the views that he promotes.


  2. To add to Dr. Crazy comments, SW Ohio is becoming more diverse and difficult to pinpoint. Yes, Butler and specially Warren County are very conservative. But Hamilton County is becoming more progressive, little by little. Here is a county by county breakdown of Issue 2 results in 2011. Issue 2 refers to SB5, the anti-union bill Kasich passed as soon as he was elected governor, and that was defeated in a referendum in 2011. A vote against Issue 2 was a vote against the anti-union bill. A vote for Issue 2 was a vote supporting the anti- union bill. Check it out:


  3. I like Dr. Crazy’s analysis, although of course all generalizations tend to melt away as we crank the microscope down into the ridges and crevices of any particular place. But this leaves whole chunks of Ohio unaccounted for and even unembroidered on, particularly the state’s two other college corners. I went to school in dead central Ohio (o.k., we sometimes just thought it was dead) now being overswallowed by Columbus. But what about the hippified hills of the southeast, between say Marietta and Athens? We always said (back then) that if the weed supply ever dried up in that rolling rocka-billy part of the state it was game over, for the time being. (Recommended reading: Abbie Hoffman’s _Steal This Book_, with its account of his speaking engagement at Rio Grande College down near Athens–and spelled RYE-OH..) And Historiann could enlighten on the onion flats up northwest, between Maumee and Michigan. How does it all get put together? Ohio has pretty much been a crazy quilt since the days when the Ohio Company settlement was separated from the Virginia Military District by that colony of French Girondist refugees at Gallipolis, and from Connecticut’s Western Reserve by the National Road. And the estate of that reactionary Federalist judge, John Cleves Symmes, still holds the ground rent deed to the Greater Miami Valley, whether anybody knows it or not. If Nate Silver has an algorithm that would politically untangle all of that cultural debris, could somebody out there please file-share a copy of it?


  4. I think you are all correct to suggest that the scene on the ground is more complicated, and that the NYT is using some convenient tropes for storytelling purposes that are at odds with granular accuracy.

    Labor is still a major feature of Dem party strength in Ohio. (Indeed, it’s probably THE BACKBONE of the party in that state.) After all, there are a lot of GM and Ford plants in Dayton and Cincinnati, and the folks who work there and whose businesses rely on the folks who work there probably trend Democratic. People up in Northern Ohio (Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo) probably trend more Democratic, but that doesn’t mean more liberal, esp. not on social issues. (Remember, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, the two congresspersons who used to represent Cleveland and Toledo respectively, were both pro-life Democrats. Kaptur beat Kucinich after they had to face each other in the primary because of redistricting, and she won.)

    As Dr. Crazy said: it’s not at all like NYC vs. Buffalo. It’s like North Buffalo v. South Buffalo. In the end, it may come down to ethnic differences: Descendants of 19th C Yankee Yorkers and Polish & Eastern European 20th C immigrants in the North, versus the descendants of 19th C German immigrants and white and black migration from the U.S. South by people looking for jobs in those GM and Ford plants in Dayton and Cincinnati. I-70 serves as a cultural extension of the Mason-Dixon line: I’ve never had a decent Pirogi south of it, and I’ve never been to a bluegrass festival north of it.


  5. Even the legendary “Wisconsin Glacier” (R-11,000 BCE) got tangled up in the I-70 corridor and shortly thereafter had to retreat, which may be a bad sign for the Ryan-Romney team. It made a little more progress in the southwest and arguably maps a bit better onto the Treaty of Greenville (1795) than onto any modern topographical maps made by O-DOT, but either way, Ryan was lucky he applied to Miami. If he had gone to OU he might have been captured by some weed-whacking William Appleman Williams disciple and ended up becoming the last tax-and-spend Democrat ever to come out of Janesville. I love the term “Yankee Yorkers,” which confounds some old and simplistic historiographical stereotypes from back near the Hudson Valley. I’d still like to see a study that figures out which westering Yankees went to Marietta and which to Cuyahoga, and what that meant way back then, and may still mean now.


  6. The more comments I read here, the more I regret using a meaningless name. Dr. In you face might be better.

    Our household doesn’t read newspapers. We have lost any respect for the Keller vocational family more than a decade ago. We listen to dear NPR and ask “what are they talking about?” Oxford? University towns have been progressive forever. I prefer Cambridge, especially punting on the Cam.

    Tomorrow you’ll find out that the bad guys won again, no matter who wins.


  7. Historiann, you’re right in your observation about the Kaptur/Kucinich pro-life issue in Northern Ohio. My US Rep is Tim (not to be confused with Ayn) Ryan, and he’s pro-life as well. Nevertheless, I’ve been amazed how consistent the region has been in voting for liberal causes. (I was born to and raised by immigrant parents living in the Western Reserve [NE Ohio], raised here, and living here once again. It’s a bit different in Trumbull and Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties than it is in Lorain and Lucas counties beyond the western border of the Reserve.) The Western Reserve was and remains a coherent region within Ohio, distinctive in its politics and voting patterns from the rest of the state. The region’s Connecticut Yankees, their children, and their grandchildren voted consistently for liberal policies that the rest of Ohio did not support—for example, in the state’s constitutional convention of 1850-51. In the same years in which Lucretia Mott addressed the Salem’s Woman’s Convention and Sojourner Truth asked of her Akron audience “Ain’t I a Woman?” as she toured for the American Anti-Slavery Society, seventy-one white men were meeting in Chillicothe to draft a new state constitution. The only votes in favor of equal political rights for African Americans in that convention came from the Western Reserve. The only votes in favor of women’s right to vote came from the Western Reserve. The delegates from the Western Reserve counties also voiced their opposition to a ban on immigrants.

    In presidential elections in the Reconstruction era the region was the Midwest’s stronghold of Republicanism, when the Grand Old Party advocated equality. In the twentieth century, the rise of heavy industry and the concomitant increase of immigrant laborers did not seem to alter the region’s historic commitment to personal liberty, self determination, and civil rights–though the KKK did appear in Youngstown in the 1920s when that city housed more immigrants than native-born white Americans but ended up leaving after 4-5 years. The region’s political tendencies remained the same, though the transformation of the nation’s political parties meant that the Western Reserve voted Democratic, even in the overwhelming victory of Ronald Reagan in the presidential election of 1984. (Don’t intend to get rah-rah about the Western Reserve; it’s just that I have been undertaking some research about regional politics and identity and trying to make sense of it all.)

    When I was growing up two-thirds of the state’s population lived in Northern Ohio; not true now–witness the growth of Columbus and Cincinnati and the loss of population in the Rust Belt. That shift has something to do, I think, with the sorts of complexity we see on the ground throughout the state.


  8. Hi, History Maven! It’s great to hear from you again. Thanks for the history lesson–I guess I lumped together Cleveland and Toledo politics because I was ignorant of the long history you cite.

    What’s your take on Catholics and abortion politics in the near future? I was intrigued that the Miami students cited above were eager for the Republicans to ditch the pro-life stuff as much as the anti-gay marriage plank. Do you think that the abortion issue will cease to be as salient an issue for Catholics in Northern Ohio? Is it possible that abortion will die out as the baby boomers age and the Kulturkampfen of the 1960s and 1970s fade?

    (I know that Mr. Catholic, Rick Santorum, was beating not just on abortion but also birth control in the Republican primaries, but most Americans seemed to by mystified by these positions. And I know: he won the Colorado caucus! But that just goes to show you how un-democratic the caucus system really is.)


  9. Rich Hart sounds like a prize. Bit of a mystery to me how someone ostensibly paid to think for a living can conclude that giving people health care coverage (or making it more affordable) is part of a strategy to create a cycle of dependency.


  10. Miami U’s tuition/fees is $20,000+ this year (I looked it up). That is without room/board. I wonder how many of Professor Hart’s converts are getting that education with a subsidy from Uncle Sam?


  11. Miami U’s tuition/fees/R&B is is $24,000+ for In-state and close to $40,000 for out of state this year (I looked it up). I wonder how many of Professor Hart’s converts are getting that education with a subsidy from Uncle Sam?


  12. WOW–that’s a lotta cabbage.

    Back when I applied and was considering going, I think tuition, room, and board cost about $7,000. (This was of course during the Taft administration.)

    We know that Ayn Ryan himself was the beneficiary of social security payments because of his father’s untimely death.


  13. I remember Miami tuition being about $6K in-state around 2001, when I was still there. And out of state was $15K or so. Then the president decided that it would make the university look more prestigious if the tuition went up and he provided the state subsidy to OH students. So in-state tuition went up to $12K, with a number of OH students getting the subsidy down to $6K. I see the increases have kept up with other universities.

    I have mixed feelings about Boxford, but I don’t think Rich Hart is representative of the faculty. The article is a bit skewed. A lot of the faculty is progressive — and we had a lively group of Professors for Peace right in the middle of the initial Afghanistan bombing. I always thought the university, even upper administration, liked to expose the students to liberal perspectives. On the other hand, I could see a Paul Ryan emerging from that campus. But I still can’t place Santorum at Penn State (I guess that’s another post).


  14. Ha! Rad Readr, you’re the only person who calls it Boxford (and I enjoy it.) My sense of the faculty and admin was your sense–mainstream academics who really didn’t care about evangelizing for their political viewpoints so much as trying to get the students to learn something about their subjects.

    I’m sure there were some of those little Ayn Ryans out there during the beer riots of the late 1990s. Remember the white frat kids who chanted “Rodney King! Rodney King!” when the local constabulary showed up after they tipped over the book-buyback kiosk? Good times, good times. . .


  15. Oh yeah, the Beer Riots!! That happened the semester before I got there, but I saw it on the news. They got mad because their civil rights were violated when the bars closed at 2 a.m. I was thinking back on the OH days and decided my best time was living in the Mile square. Great neighbors.

    And don’t forget there was that Libertarian strain in Boxford, and I think they looked up to Ayn Rand.


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