Minnesotan Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Michigand Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are from the Midwest.
This may sound like a fairly obvious statement. Pull out a map, and you’ll find Minnesota and Michigan are right in that chunky central quadrant where the Midwest is supposed to be. But surprisingly enough, that became the subject of tense debate on Twitter this week.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous statement made during a Tuesday night discussion on Medicare for All on MSNBC. Former Sen. Claire McCaskill mentioned that “free stuff from the government doesn’t play well in the Midwest.”
Justice Democrats Spokesperson Waleed Shahid responded with his own take on Twitter, pointing out that Omar and Tlaib, both of whom have pretty progressive views on health care expansions, were from there, and they managed to get elected somehow.
“Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.” -Claire McCaskill— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) July 31, 2019
1) @RashidaTlaib + @IlhanMN are also from the Midwest.
2) Medicare and Social Security are both technically “free stuff” and they play very well.pic.twitter.com/tkFtRoI0W7
Here comes the crux. On Wednesday, New York Times editor and veteran Washington journalist Jonathan Weisman tweeted this reply to Shahid:
“Saying Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or John Lewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South,” he tweeted. “C’mon.”
This sentiment – that Minneapolis and Detroit don’t really count as part of the Midwest, or that maybe Omar and Tlaib don’t – went over about as well as you can expect.
Omar tweeted that it would be “news” to the people in her district, who had until this point believed themselves to be thoroughly Midwestern. Star Tribune columnist Jennifer Brooks called it “the rudest thing a New York Times journalist has written about Minnesota since they told everyone our signature regional dish was a bowl of grapes mixed with sour cream and sugar.”
At first, Weisman doubled down with a few more tweets.
“Also, I grew up in Atlanta,” he said. “But my first jobs were with the Marietta Daily Journal. So please don’t tell me that Atlanta is synonymous with Georgia. It isn’t.”
And later: “Also it [takes] nothing away from @IlhanMN to say the message that my fan-girl in-law lives on Lake [Harriet] doesn’t work with my in-laws in Plymouth and Shoreview.”
Eventually, though, he caved, deleting the old tweets and replacing them with a new one:
“Earlier this morning I tried to make a point about regional differences in politics between urban and rural areas,” he wrote. “I deleted the tweets because I realize I did not adequately make my point.”
“And because it was ignorant, uninformed, and condescending,” Bob Collins, a Minnesotan journalist, promptly replied. “The NYT has shown time and time again it knows very little about Minnesota.”
Most of the other commenters were reluctant to let him off the hook, too, telling him he had “absolutely” made his point, it’s just that his point was bad. Even FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver jumped in.
“Using several members of Congress as an example, 3 of 4 of whom are nonwhite, you said people from major cities in the Midwest aren’t really from the Midwest, and people from major cities in the South aren’t really from the South,” he tweeted.
The dust started to settle later in the week, leaving Minneapolis to ponder its recent near-eviction from its own region. A few commenters speculated on whether the “Midwest” designation would be subdivided into narrower categories. Maybe Minnesota would be relegated to the “North” instead. But regardless, we’re still here – right where we’ve always been.
i woke up at 4:30am craving state fair roasted corn on the cob because minneapolis is the damn midwest— Tony Webster (@webster) August 1, 2019