Rachael Larimore has worked at Slate since 2002, and has been Slate’s managing editor since 2010. As managing editor, most of Rachael’s work is behind the scenes: “I keep the trains running on time. It's bad for us if we have 25 articles one day and eight the next, or if we have three different writers tackling the same subject without knowing what the others are doing. So I try to keep us organized.” But Rachael also writes from time to time, often from a rare-for-Slate conservative perspective. Jeff talked to Rachael about being a voice in the wilderness.
Did Slate know you were a Republican voter when they hired you?
RL: It didn't come up until before the 2004 election. We were having a staff-wide conversation about our "Who We're Voting For" feature. Someone asked if we should bother doing it if we didn't have anyone voting for Bush against Kerry. I was a little shy about bringing it up. But I emailed Jacob Weisberg [then Slate’s editor, and currently chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group] and told him that I was a Republican and would be voting for Bush if that helped at all. He was delighted to hear it, which was a relief.
Were you surprised there weren’t more Republican voters at Slate?
RL: I did have some company. It was 45–5. I had an intern, a military correspondent, and an economics writer on my side. But no, I wasn’t surprised. Before I came to Slate I worked mostly in sports departments, but I'd spent enough time in newsrooms to know that journalism is not a popular career choice for my ideological cohort.
Yeah, why is that? Here's [founding Slate editor] Michael Kinsley's view on your cohort: “No doubt it is true that most journalists vote Democratic, just as most business executives (including most media owners) vote Republican, though neither tendency is as pronounced as their respective critics believe. This is a natural result of the sort of people who are attracted to various careers. It is not the product of any conspiracy.”
RL: Well, there's a stereotype that journalists are bad at math. And if you look at a lot of liberal ideas ... there's also some ignorance of math. Just kidding! But I do think that some people see it as a form of public service or a way to achieve social justice—bringing attention to the plight of the poor and wronged. And I think that some creative types who want to be “writers” end up in journalism because it offers a paycheck.
It offers a paycheck?!
RL: Well, it's a better paycheck than self-publishing your novel as an unheard-of writer!
Were you worried about how your colleagues would react to your vote? Did any Slatesters give you grief?
RL: It was a healthy tearing off of the Band-Aid. And to be clear ... the reasons I didn't speak up before 2004 had nothing to do with any perceived hostilities to conservatives or Republicans, but it was very intimidating coming to work in a place where people were so intelligent and educated and made fantastic arguments that happened to be the opposite of my own arguments.
Have you been able to change any minds at Slate on individual issues?
RL: Hmmmm … I can’t think of a specific case where I’ve turned a pro-choice activist into a pro-lifer, or convinced someone that the estate tax is useless and terrible. Or if I have, no one’s ever fessed up. But I do hope that I’ve chipped away at a few stereotypes that liberals have about conservatives. For example, not all pro-lifers are Bible-thumping, sex-hating prudes in their 80s. And that not all fiscal conservatives are yacht-owning, 1 percenters who hate poor people. Some of us are quite reasonable!
How did readers react?
RL: I remember one reader in 2004 compared me to a domestic violence victim who kept going back for more. And in 2008, someone writing from a military base called me brave and heroic and said they would find a job for me if I got tired of Slate.
In 2008 you wrote, “So regardless of what happens on Nov. 4, I won't be too upset. But neither will I be too excited.” How do you feel, in retrospect? Still feel indifferent? Or wish McCain had won?
RL: Can we get a total do-over on '08?
That’s above my pay grade.
RL: Bummer. Well, in retrospect, and having watched him since ‘08, I don't think McCain would have been a very exciting or even effective president. The challenges that faced this country at that particular time were daunting. At the same time, I haven't been bowled over by President Obama. I think he gets a free pass from the media on a lot of things, and he's still not very effective. Honestly, if we could get that do-over, I'd have loved to see what Mitt Romney could have done with the economy if it could have been his problem to solve.
You live in Ohio. What's something Slate doesn't get about Ohio? More generally, what do East Coast urban elites not get about the Midwest, or red or swing states?
RL: What a question!
Why? Not true?
RL: No, it’s just that it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, what with having one foot in both places. I don't know that there is anything about Ohio or the Midwest that Slate doesn't “get”—our staffers hail from all over the country. (And honestly, I’m sure that we in the Midwest have our own misconceptions about East Coasters that are ridiculous in their own way.)
I think what happens is that not just Slate but the East Coast media in general has a sense that what's going on in New York or D.C. interests them, so naturally it will interest everyone else, and so stories that come out of the Midwest have to work extra hard to get attention.
I do, every so often—and again this is not Slate so much as the media as a whole—get a sense of what I like to call “geographical superiority complex” from East Coast folks. As if living in Brooklyn makes you a better person. The first example that comes to mind is the New York Times Style Section clickbait about parents hiring cooking consultants for their nannies, and it featured the line, “And their nanny, from Wisconsin, does not always know the difference between quinoa and couscous.” That was such a delicious line, in that it said so much more about the person writing the story than it did about the poor nanny. So high on the unintentional comedy scale. The nanny came across as the only likable person in that story.
Have you ever reacted similarly to a story in Slate?
A few years ago. If I may provide some belated press criticism, this piece both reflected and attempted to tackle those stereotypes. It was by a woman who moved to Wisconsin and faced a lot of wondering questions from her friends on the coasts, and it exposed the cluelessness that comes from coastal types. But our headline was “Midwest Living: Does it make you complacent and likely to wear clogs?” It was an interesting story, but it was hard to get past the top of it.
Aside from anecdotes, though, what I think a lot of coastal types don't get is that we are not nearly as politically monolithic, as say, Brooklyn. Ohio is deeply purple, but even in red states, you are bound to have friends who are Democrats and friends who are Republicans, and when you meet strangers you don't just assume that they are just like you.