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Is the Times Learning? (No.)


The Times’s disastrous 2016 political coverage of the Midwest can basically be distilled to two steps: 1) Don’t take the Midwest seriously in any sort of nuanced way before the election, and 2) write endless numbers of profiles on white Trump voters in the Midwest after the election, as if they are representative of the region.

Have the paper’s editors learned anything since? No. The new op-ed from Gail Collins mocking Milwaukee after the DNC announced the city as its 2020 convention site is the literary and analytic equivalent of a first-year undergrad trying to hit the word count on a paper while three-quarters drunk on Milwaukee’s Best Light. It’s so poorly written, unfunny if laughably dumb, and reprehensible in its incuriosity that it wouldn’t merit much comment were it not published in what remains, despite its editorial board’s best efforts, one of the nation’s most important newspapers, and for the twinned facts that Milwaukee is the biggest city in Wisconsin and that many experts think Wisconsin is likely to be the most important battleground state in 2020.

And yet, here is Collins (a Cincinnati native, no less). Let’s just annotate the whole stupid thing.

So the Democrats are going to nominate their presidential candidate in … Milwaukee! Let’s talk about this for a minute. It may not be the biggest news of the week, but it’s a lot more fun than analyzing Donald Trump’s budget plan.

Well, there are a lot of important things to say about Trump’s budget plan, but sure, I’ll bite.

Wisconsin, of course, is the state Hillary Clinton took for granted/failed to visit/lost in 2016. This is definitely a makeup bid. While nobody believes, deep down, that people base their vote on convention location, it can’t hurt.


“Where you hold our convention is a very strong statement of your values and who and what we are fighting for,” D.N.C. chairman Tom Perez said in making the announcement.

Possible Milwaukee convention slogans:

A) “This Time We’re Showing Up!”

B) “Milwaukee — Why Not?”

C) “More Hotel Rooms Than You’ve Heard”

Oh I’m starting to think that Gail Collins thinks that Milwaukee is a stupid place to hold…anything.

Or maybe just “Let’s Meet in the Middle.” The Democrats have begun to realize that the Midwest is a problem. Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.9 million, but she lost the electoral vote due to tiny, tiny margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And the Democrats have not held their presidential convention in the Midwest for more than 100 years. Except for Chicago. Which is sadly known to some members of the party as “The Place Between New York and Los Angeles.”

I suspect this is also how Gail Collins thinks of Chicago, given her broader disdain for the city 90 miles north. Also worth noting that there are actual, important analyses to be made about the tiny margins in MI, PA, and WI in 2016, such as this thing about felon disenfranchisement in those exact states that I definitely spent more time researching, thinking about, and writing than Gail Collins took to shit this out.

Ah yes, St. Louis in 1916. Woodrow Wilson didn’t bother to show up, but a good time was had by all.

This is literally the next line. I didn’t edit out anything in between. This casual and non-contextualized reference to the 1916 DNC in St. Louis apparently serves no other purpose than to emphasize the idea that noted historical good-guy Woodrow Wilson gave even fewer shits about the Midwest than Gail Collins does.

The civic leaders who spent the last year and a half trying to make the deal called themselves The Good Land Committee after a scene in “Wayne’s World,” where the guys meet Alice Cooper after a Milwaukee concert and ask him if he’s there often. Cooper, stone-faced, then reels off a list of factoids about the city, including that its name is “Algonquin for the good land.” The Milwaukee Public Library quietly issued a correction, explaining that it comes from “terms originating in the Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Menominee languages.”

Really, sometimes it’s hard to get this stuff right.

Truly, this is space well-spent by the Times editorial board.

More possible Milwaukee convention slogans:

A) “Not About the Algonquins”

B) “Ninety-two Miles North of Chicago”

C) “Not Socialist at All — Ignore the Republicans!”

Glad we’re taking Milwaukee seriously now.

As soon as the site selection was announced, sniping started from the right. “No city in America has stronger ties to socialism than Milwaukee,” said the director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, veering off into a mention of Bernie Sanders.

Milwaukee did once have a few mayors who called themselves socialists, although the last left office in 1960, and their goal was not so much taking over the means of production as tossing out crooked politicians. Which of course has no relation whatsoever to anything going on today.

When you are as incurious about history as Gail Collins is, it’s fine to ignore the actual history of Milwaukee’s socialist mayors, which is much more compelling than she understands and which is distilled here (ignore the references to Charlie Sykes).

Now, the city has strong union ties and a kind of working-class aura. The D.N.C. passed up the glitzier options of Miami, which is sometimes known as “The Magic City,” and Houston, which once called itself “The Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt” and is now supposed to be nicknamed “The City With No Limits,” which perhaps refers to the lack of zoning laws.

Houston, Gail Collins also thinks you’re not worthy of being taken seriously.

Milwaukee doesn’t have a slogan. In 1995 some promoters came up with “Genuine American,” but nobody really liked it. (“I didn’t think it was possible to come up with anything worse than ‘A Great Place by a Great Lake.’ … I think they’ve done it,” a county supervisor moaned.)

“As a city we haven’t prioritized a slogan because we can’t wrap up all of the wonderfully random experiences that make up Milwaukee in just a few words,” said Chris Jenkins of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce in a phone interview.

I used to live in Milwaukee, long ago, and I can attest that it’s a fine city full of lovely people. The wonderfully random experiences must have come along after I left.

“My name is Gail Collins. I lived a provincial life while living in Milwaukee as a white undergraduate student at a prestigious school in the late 1960s who was insulated from a city awash in social radicalism and civic upheaval. Nothing interesting ever happened to me there personally–maybe because I was incurious about the cultural ecosystem I was inhabiting but whatever–and I immediately left for the east coast. Therefore, Milwaukee is a provincial city.”

By the way, Wisconsin’s official motto is “Forward,” which is certainly hard to argue with. Although given the Democrats’ sensitivity to the events of 2016, it might very well change that to “Ignore Us at Your Peril.” The state hasn’t really been pressing the slogan thing since it tried to drop “America’s Dairyland” in 1985. The contest for a replacement stumbled when the screening committee rejected the people’s choice of “Eat Cheese or Die.”

The stupid and flat misperceptions of the state by a white septuagenarian who probably hasn’t been to Wisconsin in 50 years notwithstanding, cheese is fucking great and you’re stupid if you think otherwise.

I really love the whole state slogan thing. Did you know Idaho’s used to be “Great Potatoes, Tasty Destinations”? Indiana went from “Restart Your Engines” to “Honest-to-Goodness Indiana,” a while back. Sounds kind of bland and I think you should feel free to blame Mike Pence, whether it was his fault or not.

Gail Collins and the Times think you’re dumb, too, Idaho and Indiana. But please send along pitches about your whitest Trump voters for profile at their earliest bout of economic anxiety.

But about Milwaukee. The city likes to push its connection to the brewing industry — Perez celebrated the announcement with a toast of beer. Maybe this will inspire the presidential candidates to appropriate some of the old, spirits-related slogans for their campaigns.

For instance, which wine or beer tagline would you prefer for Joe Biden?

A) “Perfect for When Friends Drop In”

B) “Good Things Take Time”

C) “You Only Go Around Once”

O.K., definitely not “You Only Go Around Once.” But still, I think we’re onto something here.

I am fine with the dig at Joe Biden.

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