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Living with contradiction

rainey BARRETT


Here’s the truth of it. Hard and quick.

The Census Bureau has determined Oregon is the third fastest growing state in the nation. Third! But, here in the southwest part of the Oregon woods, the Oregon Department of Employment says half of all residents – 16 years and older – are unemployed and not looking for work. In two neighboring counties, it’s even worse.

How about that for a total contradiction in one state?

The growth is coming from manufacturing – especially in the computer and electronics world. Intel, for example, has six campuses west of Portland and employs about 17,000 people there – Oregon’s largest employer. The largest contributor on the downside – all that unemployment and staying that way – is a whole other industry – trees. Not cutting as many. Not milling as many. Not shipping as much lumber. It’s been that way for several years.

But the contradictions continue. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney carried our whole neighborhood by a large margin. Not unusual, speaking politically. You could carve an “R” on a Douglas fir around here, run it for the Oregon Legislature and it might even wind up in leadership. Our backyard is that Republican.

“The contradiction,” you ask?

By any social or economic measure, this part of Oregon is firmly in that “47%” of people Romney said were reliant on government and “would never vote for a Republican anyway.” But here, they do. In very large numbers. Out-of-work, government-dependent Republican voters. Douglas, Curry and Josephine Counties just don’t recognize a second political party on the ballot.

Now, let’s look at that 50%+ of people over the age of 16 around here not working and not looking. You can subtract the disabled who can’t and seniors at an age they can’t or don’t want to work anymore and aren’t looking. Suppose all those folks totaled half of the 50%. That still leaves thousands who’re unemployed and not looking to go back into the labor force. Their income is lower and they’re likely to be on one or more government programs or retirement savings. Or nothing. We’ve got a lot of ‘em.

Still, Romney proclaimed those folks were a lost cause at the polls for him and the Republican Party. And the Party pro’s seem to accept his faulty premise. Seems they think if you ain’t working, you’re a Democrat. But around here, these folks turn out for the GOP. And they did for Romney.

Some months ago, we were told of a $12-million turn-around project to be undertaken by the National Republican Party. New technology. New staff. New message. “Kinder-gentler-softer.” “More welcoming.” “More inclusive.” So far, pure B.S.

While continuing their overwrought anti-abortion excesses at all levels and working harder to exclude minority voters, the GOP has changed absolutely nothing. At the moment, the right and far-right in Congress are fighting each other and the Republican Party seems Hellbent on going down the tubes on immigration reform, too. Pick a subject that was supposed to be a target of “change” and you’ll find nothing has. Changed. In fact, on abortion, curtailing voter rights and immigration reform, the Party has – or is about to – doubled-down on what’s cost ‘em recent elections while narrowing the party base.

Congress has become a zoo – failing us on virtually every issue. What significant economic progress achieved recently has come from a private sector laboring against an intransigent government more often creating roadblocks than making the job easier. We’ve become a nation attempting to right itself economically in the face of elected federal opposition.

Think Oregon for a moment. In the most economically active, thriving and prosperous region of the State that’s made us third fastest-growing in the nation, Democrats are winning elections from city hall to Congress. While here in the most Republican-dominated part unemployment is the highest in the state, food banks are trying hard to keep up with the accelerated demand, and the homeless are everywhere. But they’re voting for the elephants. Romney was wrong about that, too.

Oregon and a few other states have become microcosms of this situation. We’re capturing technology and what’s next while also contending with failures caused – in large part – by clinging to the way things were. One of the ironies in our backyard is that many of the timber companies have used this economic downtime to wire up new technology and learn how to do more with fewer employees. The old days ain’t coming back. But – as 50% out-of-work-and-not-looking shows – thousands of people here don’t believe that.

So, let’s take stock of what we have: a neutered, ineffective congress – a National Republican Party doomed to compound a self-inflicted, losing history at the polls – a technologically-involved private sector doing its best to grow despite political indifference and governmental failure – a significant portion of people who’ve given up or just don’t care anymore, seemingly written off by their own political party leaders – a rapidly shifting demographic to a new minority-majority nation within a few years.

We not only live in interesting times. We live with the contradictions of those times as well.

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