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A state different in some very good ways

There’s only one Nebraska. Reminders of its uniqueness appeared in the obituaries of Charlie Munger, who for decades served as the vice chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.

The international press has long been fascinated by this $780 billion holding company that was made in Omaha and stayed in Omaha. Its founder, Warren Buffett, and Munger grew up there and are considered two of the most successful investors ever.

Omaha is hardly the cow town portrayed in the stereotypes, but it still is physically and culturally time zones away from the financial capitals on the coasts. Buffett and Munger built a financial powerhouse while shunning the self-promoting, wealth-flaunting, obscenity-spouting ways adopted by hotshots elsewhere.

Munger promoted the old virtues of self-discipline and commonsense and didn’t regard morality as a weakness in business. But he was also a man of unconventional thinking and high-level wit. “Capitalism without failure is like religion without hell,” Munger famously said. Also, “Better to buy a good business at a fair price than a fair business at a good price.”

His quips could go homespun: “Invest in a business any fool can run, because someday a fool will.”

The obituaries for Munger dwell on his contentment at playing second fiddle to Buffett — aka The Sage of Omaha — even though he was considered the savvier investor. As Buffett himself said, “Charlie does the talking. I just move my lips.” Yet, the idea of Munger managing a palace coup against his partner was unimaginable.

Buffett is a moderate Democrat. Munger was a moderate Republican. While Munger agreed with some of Donald Trump’s policies, he said he’d never vote for him.

“Biden is a typical Democratic politician,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “I’m used to that type of defect.”

Trump has made headway smashing social norms in Nebraska as he has elsewhere. But he faces some headwinds in a state that has traditionally put up resistance to the political extremes.

Nebraska’s politics tend toward purple. Nebraska and Maine are the only states that split their electoral votes in presidential races according to how the vote goes. Thus, while the rest of the Nebraska usually votes for the Republican presidential candidates, the largely Democratic district encompassing Omaha was able to send its electoral votes to Barack Obama and then Joe Biden in 2020.

Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature — a Senate but no House. And it is officially nonpartisan: No party affiliation appears next to the names on the ballot. And that is said to moderate partisan strife.

Nebraska has produced a number of brave Republicans. Former Sen. Ben Sasse had bent not an inch to the election deniers in his party. After the Republican state committee “censured” him for saying the obvious, that Trump had lost the 2020 election, Sasse came out swinging.

“I listen to Nebraskans every day,” Sasse said, “and very few of them are as angry about life as some of the people on this committee.” He talked of past standing ovations when he pledged to put the constitution ahead of politics, a stance since dropped in Maga world.

“Nebraskans aren’t rage addicts,” Sasse said, “and that’s good news.”

While in office, Sasse was quite conservative and refused to share that designation with the church of Trump. “Personality cults aren’t conservative,” he said. “Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. … Acting like politics is a religion isn’t conservative.”

Could independent thinkers with strong moral cores, like Munger and Sasse, have succeeded in other parts of the country? Perhaps. But few other parts of the country could have produced these people.

Nebraska is different in some very good ways.

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