All Politics Local No More?

J. S. ScifoJ. S. Scifo 4 Comments


A truism of American politics for decades has been that “all politics is local.”  The general drift of the assertion was that no matter what else was happening in the body politic at the national level, how people felt about circumstances in their own communities was paramount in their voting decisions. This no longer appears to be the case.

The dictum, famously attributed to former Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was popularized by political commentators such as Chris Matthews, a former aide, and became an oft repeated morsel of conventional wisdom on cable news political analysis.

But a lot has happened since those pre-Internet days. Now any minor ripple becomes a tidal wave.

In a February interview with veteran political reporter Carla Marinucci, Averell “Ace” Smith, a longtime Democratic operative and consultant to Gavin Newsom, stated that “All politics is national.” A little over a month later the California governor launched a multistate tour of the country seeking to nationalize many of the issues roiling the country. Among these are attempts by state Republican leaders to “ban books, criminalize doctors, fire teachers, intimidate librarians, kidnap migrants, target trans kids, stoke racism, [and] condone antisemitism.”

Never mind the individual circumstances, or even validity, of the charges, or the fact that the Republican leaders responsible for these supposed atrocities (DeSantis-FL, Abbott-TX, Huckabee-AK, and Reeves-MS) were freely elected—and in some cases reelected—by the very citizens Gov Newsom imagines suffering under an authoritarian regime.

Underlying O’Neill’s maxim was the assumption that voters were not more concerned about local issues per se (such as schools, streets, and garbage pick-up) but what their representatives—no matter the office—were doing to help address local issues.

The notion encompassed a kind of retail politics stemming from old school machine politics, and the understanding that most people really don’t care about the distinctions between local, county, state, and national governments.  Thus, if a constituent called his congressman to complain about a pothole, the response was not to direct the person to the appropriate council office, but to call that office on behalf of the constituent. That kind of personal attention led to O’Neill’s eventual ascendance to the Speakership.

But, as with so many other truisms that used to guide American politics, this maxim has lost its relevancy. Apparently, now all issues are national. Trans athletes, drag queen library hour, critical race theory, everyone is looking for a national response to the problems facing local schools, libraries, and public universities.

This is not a sign of a healthy Republic.

John Calhoun, while an odious racist, was also an insightful interpreter of the Constitution, rivaled only by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in his perceptive understanding of America’s constitution, both formal and informal, and the currents of history that govern the affairs of men.

Writing in the 1850s, Calhoun warned that as power consolidated in the federal government the nation’s politics would become ever more contentious and divisive. As the power and patronage of the federal government increased, so too would the desire to obtain control, especially of the presidency. The result would be “discontent, alienation, and hostility of feelings…to be followed by disorder, convulsions, and a disruption of the system.”

Although his analysis was based in a form of sectionalism that has no exact corollary to the America of 2023, the underlying critique holds. In fact, it could be argued that the whole purpose of American conservatism is to fight against the impulse to find national solutions to what are essentially local problems. Although issues have been nationalized for some time—one need only think of education or gun-control—the tendency seems to have hit hyperdrive in our polarized world where every personal decision seems to carry some weighty political consequence.

Conservatives would be wise to resist the temptation to turn every issue into, as the saying goes, a federal case. As Calhoun warned, it only serves to aggrandize the federal government, in particular the Executive Branch. This can only redound to the benefit of those who seek to undermine the constitutional order.

Maybe Gavin Newson knows what he’s doing.

J.S. Scifo is a North County resident who has worked in national and state politics.


Comments 4

  1. This article does hit the nail on the head. But need to add that the internet was not the only reason politics became national. The fact that on July 7, 2000, the City of San Diego signed over their sovereignty (and decision making) to I.C.L.E.I. (International Community for Local Environmental Initiatives) aka Agenda 21, SmartGrowth, etc).

    This puts San Diego and the 100+ cities in California (who signed agreements) all having to obey this globalist agenda. This is how the UN takes over America, bottom up – City by City and top down (biden signing over our sovereignty over to the W.H.O.).

    Unfortunately, This decision making process is deceptive as San Diego residents still believe that San Diego City Council still has decision making authority over the City.

    They do not. How can they? San Diego must adhere to ICLEI requirements as does the State of California. If local politicians do not inform the voters about this I.C.L.E.I agenda, they must be part of this globalist org.

    Real patriotic American local group leaders and activists need to sit down with patriotic politicians/candidates to plot the course to ‘disconnect’ from I.C.L.E.I. Or all of us must willingly give up our freedom, liberty, private property rights to acknowledge that our rights come from the government, not from God. Capeesh?

  2. Silliness from Lee Sandvick, still pontificating about some non-binding resolution adopted by the City Council over 20 years ago committing to sustainable growth.

    Wow, the City of San Diego is bad enough as it is — but they turned over their sovereignty to some international group in year 2000, and no one knows about it? Get a grip.

    This QAnon-like stuff is so far behind, the pontificators don’t even know that Agenda 21 has now been updated to Agenda 2030! I’m not sure we’re more doomed by liberal politicians, or conspiracy theorists.

  3. Greg Larkin.
    I do not have any knowledge about QAnon nor am I a conspiracy theorist.
    How could I be, when the facts are posted right on ICLEI’s website? The Mayor at the time was Susan Golding so she must have been the one who would have authorized such an agreement.
    You said no one knows about it? Am assuming that all the rinos, globalists, neo-cons over the years have kept it quiet, while implementing its ‘Smart Growth’ agenda.
    Also you mentioned Agenda 2030.
    But why the delay, to keep us complacent? ‘Global Governance 2025’ was published in Sept 2010. Released out on the internet by some whistleblower. Saw it and saved to my computer on 05-04-2013. Sure there are thousands of copies out there. Can email the 82 page document to you. Just ask.

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