Oklahoma’s Displacement Disorder
Dr. Tom Deighan


Written by Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent

Think Globally, Act Locally: no single phrase captures modern sentiment better.  For many, it reinforces the idea that creating a better world starts in our own backyard.  A single butterfly beating its feathery wings . . . the dropping of a pebble in a pond . .  . counting the apples in a seed . . . all noble ideas encouraging us to see the potential impact of our actions on humankind.  Such popular sayings evolve through very predictable stages, however, no matter how truthful.  At first they are profound, then popular, then silly, then meaningless, and finally, potentially dangerous.  Best case, Think Globally, Act Locally continues to fade from proverb to platitude.   Worst case, this phrase dujour metastasizes into something currently unimaginable.  Only time will tell.

Think Globally, Act Locally certainly characterizes Oklahoma politics for over a decade, but we Okies have put our own twist on it:  Obsess Globally, React Locally.  How else can we explain our state’s behavior in recent years?  We obsess over genuine global and national dysfunction and react legislatively in Oklahoma based on those distant trends, irrespective of our own needs.  Oklahoma has developed its own special displacement disorder akin to kicking the dog when we have a bad day at Washington.  We punish ourselves in hopes that national leaders will wince.

Oklahoma resents Washington’s intrusion into our personal lives, so we may ultimately need passports to fly domestically.  We protest federal policies hurting the energy industry, so we won’t tax the harvesting of our own natural resources at the same rate as competing states.  We decry the state of activist educational systems in other parts of the country and conclude that virtual charter schools and vouchers in rural Oklahoma are the answers.  Some states without income tax are thriving, so we cut ours, completely ignoring the astronomical property taxes and other sources of revenue supporting those states.  Wasteful pork projects across the nation disgust us, so we refuse to update our crumbling highways, prisons, hospitals, and schools.  I hate these national patterns as much as any Okie, but we cannot think so globally that they eclipse realities in our own backyard.

We can continue to self-harm, or we can begin to capitalize on our considerable strengths.  For example, we have a balanced budget law which ensures fiscal accountability.  We have vast and rich natural resources that can support deferred infrastructure improvements. We are home to sovereign, Native American nations whose economic potential is virtually unlimited.  Most importantly, however, we have the best people, and obsessively reacting to global trends has hurt them.  This is Oklahoma, not Washington D.C.  This is high stakes, not a bedlam game where we can oppose each other for sport.  This is real.  This is local. 

Instead of Think Globally, Act Globally, we should reverse it:  Think Locally, Act Globally.  Washington needs more Oklahoma – balanced budgets, protection of individual liberties, and a deep respect for local control.  Instead of knee-jerk reactionaryism to national trends, we should impose some Okie common sense on Washington.  Let’s stop trying to be like other states, for we are not Texas.  And let’s stop distancing ourselves from other states, for we never will be New York or California.  We must first rediscover and reclaim our state identity, and part of our identity is stubbornness, but stubbornness has not served our state well in recent years.  Obstructionism is not a virtue, neither is kicking our citizens nor letting our own house burn down to prove a point to national politicians.   At first our local defiance to global lunacy was profound, then popular, then silly, then meaningless, but it has now metastasized into something dangerous. We’re doing fine, Oklahoma? Perhaps, when we can start to be Oklahomans first.