Last updated on 2012.12.17
The South Dakota Republican Party is run by a guy from Minnesota. Rep. Kristi Noem's campaign is run by a guy from Minnesota. These non-South Dakotans put together an extended video arguing that Matt Varilek isn't South Dakotan enough:
Mr. Ehrisman was first to notice the ad, and he recognizes immediately how showing Matt Varilek traveling the world and working on policy issues could cast him in a more positive light than it does Kristi Noem, who stays home and "plays restaurant, cashes checks for farm subsidies, and pretends to fix fence."
Mr. Montgomery, a smart reporter here by way of Illinois and Iowa, offers a perceptive critique of the unhealthy, anti-intellectual, anti-talent attitude projected by the pro-Noem video:
...it's not like Varilek is a pure carpetbagger who lived his whole life in some other state and moved here just to run for office. He grew up here, left to go to college and to start work, then eventually married, came back home and had a few kids. I think that's a pretty common experience for South Dakotans -- an experience this video implies is suspect.
...More to the point, compared to issues like tax policy, the future of social programs like Medicare, the fate of the farm bill, and the shape of the country's laws on issues like abortion and marriage, this seems like a silly and distracting issue. And you can decide whether Noem or Varilek is the better person to tackle these issues without looking at whether they studied abroad [David Montgomery, "SDGOP Hits Varilek as Globetrotting Radical," Political Smokeout, October 18, 2012].
This Republican ad plays to the South Dakota mentality that David Newquist has explained in his critiques of small-town small-mindedness that drives away youth and talent. We tell our kids we want them to seek opportunities and do big things. The best and brightest do seek those opportunities at big universities and in big jobs around the world. But when they come back to South Dakota to contribute their time and talent and raise their families in small-town bliss, we hold them suspect. We make them feel like their studies at Carleton and Oxford, their travels overseas, and their remarkable work elsewhere somehow betrayed their South Dakota roots.
A South Dakota ex-pat friend and I were talking about exactly this issue last week. When he travels, he always manages to run into other South Dakota ex-pats. No matter how long they've been gone from the state, they speak of South Dakota with a fondness, fascination, and familiarity that seems unique to South Dakota natives. South Dakota takes hold of the souls that are born here. We create an unusual spiritual tension when we tell those successful, talented people, "We don't need your kind around here."
I can understand that, with a unintellectual Congresswoman who hasn't achieved anything, the Republicans' only resort is to portray intellect and achievement as bad things. But this GOP video comparing Noem and Varilek fosters an attitude that will only drive young and talented people away from South Dakota. That is unfair to those whiz kids, and it's unfair to South Dakota.
Update 2012.12.17: In 2010, a state legislator observed that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has "too much talent to stay here." The GOP distaste for real talent mingles with a statewide inferiority complex.