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NY Times Columnist Admits Something ‘Badly Wrong’ With Blue West Coast States

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


New York Times columnist and former Oregon Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nicholas Kristof unequivocally stated on Saturday that West Coast cities are “a mess” under Democratic Party leadership.

In a column for the New York Times, Kristof argued that “West Coast liberalism” is more focused on the intentions behind its policies rather than their outcomes. Consequently, deep blue states like Oregon have major problems with homelessness and drug use, “below-average” high school graduation rates, and escalating murder rates, Fox News noted.

“But liberals like me do need to face the painful fact that something has gone badly wrong where we’re in charge, from San Diego to Seattle,” the columnist wrote to begin the column, noting further that the West Coast offers “a version of progressivism that doesn’t result in progress.”

Kristof, whose 2021 gubernatorial campaign in Oregon was terminated by the Oregon Supreme Court due to eligibility issues, clarified that he does not view this as a widespread problem with liberalism. He pointed out examples where he believes Democratic states generally perform better than Republican ones, indicating that his critique was not against liberalism as a whole.

Democratic states enjoy a life expectancy of two years longer than Republican states. Per capita G.D.P. in Democratic states is 29 percent higher than in G.O.P. states, and child poverty is lower. Education is generally better in blue states, with more kids graduating from high school and college,” he claimed.

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“The gulf in well-being between blue states and red states is growing wider, not narrower,” he said, prompting him to conclude, “So the problem isn’t with liberalism. It’s with West Coast liberalism.”

He mentioned significant issues in California and Oregon, stating that these problems are not present in blue states on the East Coast.

“The two states with the highest rates of unsheltered homelessness are California and Oregon. The three states with the lowest rates of unsheltered homelessness are all blue ones in the Northeast: Vermont, New York and Maine. Liberal Massachusetts has some of the finest public schools in the country, while liberal Washington and Oregon have below-average high school graduation rates.”

Kristof noted that mental health services for youth have deteriorated in West Coast blue states, whereas they have improved in states on the opposite end of the country. He also highlighted that drug use has increased in the West while declining in the Northeast. Additionally, he observed a similar pattern with murder rates, which are rising in the West and decreasing in the Northeast.

He then offered up some theories as to why Democratic Party leadership appears “less effective on the West Coast,” stating, “My take is that the West Coast’s central problem is not so much that it’s unserious as that it’s infected with an ideological purity that is focused more on intentions than on oversight and outcomes.”

“Politics always is part theater, but out West too often we settle for being performative rather than substantive,” he wrote.

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Fox noted further:

Kristof provided examples, like the fact that Oregon took money from an already “tight education budget” to put tampons in boys’ restrooms in elementary schools, “including boys’ restrooms in kindergartens.”

He also mentioned Portland setting up the “Portland Freedom Fund,” a volunteer group that pays bail for people of color. He explained how it paid bail for a man after he was arrested for allegedly threatening the life of his girlfriend. Once he got out of jail, he murdered the woman. 

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Kristof went on, writing that despite being inspired by Critical Race theorists like Ibram X. Kendi, West Coast leaders have “impeded home construction in ways that made cities unaffordable, especially for people of color.”

“We let increasing numbers of people struggle with homelessness, particularly Black and brown people. Black people in Portland are also murdered at higher rates than in cities more notorious for violence, and Seattle and Portland have some of the greatest racial disparities in arrests in the country,” he wrote.

“I think intentions and framing can matter, but it’s absolutely true that good intentions are not enough. What matters is improving opportunities and quality of life, and the best path to do that is a relentless empiricism,” Kristof said.

He concluded: “We need to get our act together. Less purity and more pragmatism would go a long way. But perhaps the first step must be the humility to acknowledge our failures.”

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