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All politics are local — not

Mickey Kaus does a public service by trashing Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum that “all politics are local.” As Kaus point out, all the congressional elections in recent decades have been nationalized.

I’d go one step further and say that, sure, all politics are local–if you’re Tip O’Neill and represent a ironclad Democratic seat in Congress. It’s easy to be smug about your political skills if you’re in a safe seat and have enough pull in state politics to avoid your district getting gerrymandered. Then you can sit there and sagely attribute your success to your continuing mastery of local politics rather than to whatever it took to get the seat in the first place.

One Comment

  1. numeric says:

    Gelman opines:

    I'd go one step further and say that, sure, all politics are local–if you're Tip O'Neill and represent a ironclad Democratic seat in Congress. It's easy to be smug about your political skills if you're in a safe seat and have enough pull in state politics to avoid your district getting gerrymandered. Then you can sit there and sagely attribute your success to your continuing mastery of local politics rather than to whatever it took to get the seat in the first place.

    Tip O'Neill was Speaker in a time of continuing Democrat Congressional dominance (dating from the New Deal). Taking care of one's district then made a great deal more sense. The larger point is that we are living in a time of close competition, probably most comparable to the post Civil War period, where the house (and the presidency) would flip frequently. One hundred years of single party dominance (from 1896 to 1932 by the Republicans, 1932 to 1980 by Democrats) lead to the belief that things don't change much–in those circumstances, politics is local.

    As for smugness by politicians, nothing tops academics smugness with their own "contributions". The complete idiocy of academic economists for the last 30-50 years has now been completely exposed. Political scientists aren't held to any standard of real-world performance (though if we woke up in a dictatorship one morning, maybe they'd get blamed for something). I happen to think that the standards of discourse in public affairs directly mirrors the decreased standards of integrity in the social sciences–heck, in the spirit of grand theorizing so typical in the social sciences, I'll even hypothesize that the dishonesty started in the social sciences and then spread to the political/public sphere (of course I can't prove it–but can anyone disprove it?).