08 November 2006

all politics is [not] local

[photo: New York Times]

WELL, WELL, WELL. It's been quite a day, hasn't it? Leading up to Nov. 7, there had been buzz of an electoral "wave" -- akin to the Republican sweep of 1994 -- but did you really think it could happen? Madam Speaker Pelosi? Senate Majority Leader Reid?

The election will be picked over endlessly by pundits in the days and weeks to come -- and most of the analysis no doubt will revolve around the drama and intrigue of the oh-so-close races that are responsible for the new Democratic Congress. [And what drama! McCaskill surging at 1am ... Tester clinching it this morning ... and Webb, incredible Webb, defeating George Allen by the slimmest of margins.]

For me, however, this election goes beyond the drama and excitement, and it really becomes about a much larger shift in the political landscape of this country. Legendary Speaker Tip O'Neill is often (and wrongly, some say) credited with coining the phrase "all politics is local," a political worldview that stresses the importance for elected representatives to respect and tend to their immediate base in order to preserve their positions. And indeed, in O'Neill's day, if you were a congressman, you really did have to cultivate that local base in order to stay in power. Local issues ultimately trumped national or global issues; in many ways, the widespread Democratic neglect of their base helped accelerate the Republican takeover in 1994.

Today is a different situation. In contrast to the hyper-localism of the days of Tip O'Neill, it seems to me that national and international politics have collapsed into the local, and our elected representatives are now held accountable for events and policies of global scope. Sure, there are always broader national trends that affect local elections, but one can't help but notice how a global paradigm of a "smaller world" resulting from the constant flow of information has begun to affect the democratic process itself. For me, this election has always been about accountability -- about sending a message that the status quo is not acceptable, and that change is necessary. Suddenly we find that a congressman from Indiana or Kentucky can be held accountable for national issues and international policies; democracy is becoming redefined as accountability becomes globalized.

So congratulations, Dems. Enjoy this moment; you've certainly earned it. But also be wary. An increasingly empowered electorate will make 2008 that much harder.

06 November 2006


Tomorrow's a huge day. Be a part of it. Democracy is not a spectator sport.