Saturday, December 14, 2019

#348 / Tip O'Neill Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill
President Donald J. Trump
In a recent article in The Washington Post, Paul Waldman talked about impeachment, and specifically about the politics of the current impeachment proceedings aimed at removing President Trump from office. 

The title of Waldman's article (which may or may not be visible to those who have to confront The Washington Post paywall) is as follows: "What moderate Democrats don’t get about impeachment — and 2020." 

Waldman's point is that Democrats who think they can "split the middle," in some way, and who are thus urging a "censure" of the President, rather than his impeachment and removal from office, are way off base, politically speaking. Such Democrats (and there are some) represent Congressional Districts where Donald J. Trump won in 2016. These Members of Congress have the erroneous impression, says Waldman, that their voters will appreciate a position that indicates that while the president has not, really, behaved well, his sins are probably not sufficient to justify his impeachment. 

Here's Waldman's reaction to this proposition: 

Moderate Democrats aren’t suggesting censure because they sincerely believe that Trump’s misdeeds were kind of bad but don’t merit impeachment. They’re doing it out of self-preservation, in the belief that they can find some sort of needle to thread on impeachment that will satisfy Democratic voters in their districts but not alienate Republican voters.

But they can’t. And their best chance at reelection is to understand that.

The reason is that congressional politics has become intensely nationalized. Former House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill used to say that "all politics is local,” and it was true then, but it no longer is. There is less and less room for individual members of Congress to create identities that significantly diverge from their party’s identity (emphasis added).

Tip O'Neill is pictured at the top of this blog posting. He is, indeed, known for that "all politics is local" statement. If you click on the link that Waldman provided, you'll find that this is, in fact, the title of O'Neill's book.

The other person pictured above hasn't, as far as I know, made any similar statement about what he thinks drives politics in the United States, but if he were asked to forge such a statement, I think our current president would probably say: "All politics is about me." The fact, is, says Waldman, that this is pretty much true, today. 

Back in November of last year, some politically active residents of Jefferson Township, New Jersey, wrote a Letter to the Editor referencing O'Neill's statement, and claiming that his advice was "still valid." Their letter urged the reelection of two members of the Township Council, and they made the following argument: 

We hope that as our neighbors, you will think “local” when you vote next Tuesday. Of course, it is true that we all have regional and national concerns and take positions on those concerns. But when it comes to the issues at the very top of mind, our greatest concerns are local. 
Your concerns are ours as well, which is why we ask for your vote. Pulling the lever for Doug Helmstetter and Dan Malloy means votes for “A Shared Voice for Jefferson” and a true democracy.

It may be that Waldman is on to something, because Helmstetter and Malloy went down to a stinging defeat. The local news said, "Republicans Win Race For Jefferson Town Council." Sounds like the candidates who won were running on "national" issues, and those issues carried the day in Jefferson, with the candidates who had appealed to "local concerns" being decisively defeated.

If it is true that Waldman is "on to something" in his statement that congressional politics (and other local politics) has become intensely nationalized - and I think his observation is largely correct - it is very important that those who care about maintaining and elevating democratic self-government do everything they possibly can to try to restore an "all politics is local" perspective. 

The political power of voters is magnified at the local level, and is attenuated by distance. Maintaining control over our elected officials is easiest locally, much harder at the state level, and increasingly difficult at the national level. And yet, the Constitution is premised on the idea that Members of Congress will reflect the will of local voters. If they don't, the idea is, they will pretty promptly be removed from office. If our politics are not working that way now, they can and should work that way, but (as in every other case in which politics is being discussed), the personal engagement of ordinary people is what makes the process work. 

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