When I was in my teens and 20s I dreamed of the day when I got out of Lincoln, Nebraska, the least interesting (and least progressive) big college town in America. And I finally did, going eventually to Omaha, Denver, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, before moving back here for personal reasons a few years ago.
Now that I live here again, I can say without hesitation that Omaha is not the cow town it used to be when the south of the city literally used to smell of cow shit because of all the stockyards.
The cows are gone, there’s a nascient progressive music scene, and there exists a couple of neighborhoods/areas that are actually cool in ways that big-city cool neighborhoods attract young people.
When I was a teenager I would have LOLed if someone said any neighborhoods were progressive here. Nonetheless, Omaha and its blue voters are the reasons that Nebraska is one of the only states that splits its electoral votes between Republicans and Democrats.
Still, it’s going to be a while before Nebraska (or, rather, Omaha) gets the respect it deserves, as witnessed by this New York Times article about Iowa losing its status as the first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential nominating contest:
Iowa’s dethronement, which was not unexpected, has inspired a rush of emotions in the state — mourning, regret, nostalgia, reflections on Democrats’ weakening grip on the Midwest and a kind of who-are-we-now bit of soul searching.
“We’ve always joked, If Iowa doesn’t have the caucuses, are we Nebraska?” said Mike Draper, the owner of Ray Gun, a quirky T-shirt store in Des Moines frequently visited by candidates and their staffs. His description of the caucuses was not quite political, yet fairly apt: “It’s like the dork Olympics.”
“Every four years, it really is one of the most exciting things,” he added. “You so rarely see Iowa on the news. It’s surreal to be here, where nobody ever notices.”
A T-shirt in the store read “Just Trying to Get Some Ranch,” a deep inside-Iowa political reference to a viral video of a young woman who in 2019 pushed past Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York campaigning in an Iowa bar, all in pursuit of salad dressing. Mr. Draper said the store paid the young woman “licensing checks every quarter” for years.
This much is true: Iowa thinks it is cooler than Nebraska, and Nebraska thinks it is cooler than Iowa. The truth is that, based just on Des Moines and Omaha, Des Moines probably comes out just ahead of Omaha as to the “cool” factor. But Omaha is nipping at Des Moines’ heels.
But neither place will ever be confused with Minneapolis or Kansas City.