Jack Shafer: “Is a New York Times Columnist Seriously Running for Governor of Oregon?”

From a Jack Shafer Fourth Estate column on politico.com headlined “Is a New York Times Columnist Seriously Running for Governor?”:

For at least a century or more after our republic was founded, it was considered both poor political etiquette and undignified to advance your own candidacy for higher office. Like a prophet from god, you were supposed to simply wait for the call. In politics, this meant biding time until your party, or a newspaper under the spell of your party, selected you to run….

Nicholas Kristof, who has been writing a wonky and crusading op-ed column about international human rights and the disenfranchised for the New York Times for two decades, appears to be following this ancient dictate in his home state of Oregon, telling Portland’s Willamette Week that a group of his Oregon friends who are polling on his prospects as a candidate hope to persuade him to run for the governorship in 2022.

“We need new leadership from outside the broken political system,” Kristof told Willamette Week, presumably in straight-face mode, sounding exactly like a candidate. “I’m honestly interested in what my fellow Oregonians have to say about that.”

Will Kristof follow through and run as a Democrat to replace the term-limited Democratic occupant, Kate Brown? Does he have a chance? Will he connect with Oregon voters on the stump, or will he repel them by acting like he’s on a book tour raining his standard sanctimony on the masses?…

Journalists have always thought there was one way to look at politicians—down—and that they could do a better job governing than the palookas who got elected. Who knew better how the system worked than a journalist? Who was better connected, had spent more years perfecting his rhetoric and oratory, and possessed a stronger action plan than an opinion writer?

Historians tell us the standard that journos made good government officials began to be retired around the time of the Civil War as newspapers transitioned to being about events more than ideas, and all but vanished in the 20th century as newspapers remodeled themselves as story-tellers and drama-bringers….

Although a few journalists have won office since then, high-profile columnist-candidates like William F. Buckley Jr. and Patrick Buchanan haven’t shared their luck. A columnist like Buckley or Buchanan or Kristof might not be a bad government executive, but voters have come to treat the job of columnist as separate from that of office holder, perhaps because they’ve come to view the columnists’ job is criticizing others’ behavior while the office holder is expected to knock heads and produce results. Mark Zusman, the editor of Willamette Week pointed out to me that Oregon voters sometimes surprise the pundits….

“There are some very sharp people working with Kristof, and the field has so many contenders that he might be able to break through given how different he is from the veteran pols who are circling this race,” Zusman says. “But is Nick the kind of guy who will dial for dollars?”

I can’t speak for Kristof’s temperament for the job. He seems to have remained rooted in Oregon, where he runs a family orchard. The one time I encountered Kristof, he seemed less stuck on himself than most elite columnists, so that counts for something. But what proof exists that he can raise money, campaign, lead his party, deal with the opposition party and manage the Oregon bureaucracy? When voters elected a non-politician as chief executive of the United States, we got a four-year carnival of political pranks and lies. Kristof can’t be as wretched an administrator as Donald Trump was, but will Oregon voters elect a governor whose most immediate job experience has been satisfying a handful of people in a newspaper office when the field will be filled with candidates who understand organizations and politicking? Kristof, whose trophy shelf bulges with all the top awards, has contested sex slavers for many years, but does he have the guts and patience to wrassle with a state legislature, even in a good-government state like Oregon?

Writers like Kristof, who has spent a lifetime bossing paragraphs around, can be excellent philosopher kings. Some even have the stuff to serve as the ruler of a tiny principality. But I wouldn’t trust one to be my governor.

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