Oklahoma Is OK, but Seriously, That’s Not OK

Nov 20, 2019 | Blog | 0 comments

The Americans at the table, negotiating a business deal, ask one of their number, “You can speak Dutch?” He replies, “I’m OK.” With his fellow Americans looking doubtful, he proceeds to mistranslate what they want him to say to their Dutch counterparts. The “OK” translator tells the Dutch that the Americans really need a hug, when he was supposed to tell them they really need the deal. With that, the AT&T commercial ends as one of the Dutch negotiators gives an American a hug with the announcer saying, “When just OK is not OK.”

There are several of these commercials, each with a different scenario, in which, indeed, just OK is not OK. And every time I see one of these commercials I think of the license plates that were once so common – “Oklahoma is OK.”

As someone who works to develop policy suggestions intended to make Oklahoma better, and hopefully, the best that Oklahoma can be, it often seems that slogan – Oklahoma is OK – gets in the way.

The fact is, in most respects Oklahoma IS OK. We don’t have the best tax system in the land, but it’s not the worst, either. We don’t have the lowest taxes, but they’re not nearly the highest. Our roads seem pretty terrible compared to Texas, but eight states have worse ones. Eleven states are worse than Oklahoma when it comes to education systems, by one ranking. Sure, it was only recently that Oklahoma was included in a list of “judicial hell holes,” but we have a lower unemployment rate than 25 other states. It can’t be all that bad, right?

But do Oklahomans tolerate being “OK” from their sports teams? Would slogans like “OU football is OK,” “OSU football is OK,” and “Thunder basketball is OK” be stated with pride?

Suppose the coaches at OU and OSU were the best-paid in the country, and the Thunder’s payroll was above the luxury tax. If all these teams had mediocre winning records, would anybody brag that Oklahoma’s teams had the highest paid coaches and players in the land? No. Rather, it would be a mark of shame.

Yet, many of Oklahoma’s legislative leaders have made it a goal to raise average teacher pay to the highest in the region. How well our students perform in demonstrating how much they know doesn’t seem to matter.

Oklahoma isn’t at the bottom in education, it seems, so hey, it’s OK. We’re fixing bridges, so hey, the highways are OK. New companies set up shop in Oklahoma now and then, and movies get made here occasionally, so hey, economic incentives (bribes) are OK. Oklahoma City spends money on an artificial canal, artificial rapids, and a trolley to nowhere, and hey, it’s OK because maybe we’ll get our share of millennials.

But is just OK really OK? Do we really know what we ought to be OK about? Shouldn’t our leaders strive for being the best? Would “top 10” ever be good enough for OU football? Why shouldn’t it be that way for Oklahoma government, in ways that matter, which is not just how much money we spend?

Don’t get me wrong. I live here. I’m glad Oklahoma is OK. I just want it to be so much better.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at bschlomach@1889institute.org.