All politics is local

I know – I say it all the time but I just don’t think I can say it often enough. Last Thursday night was the Norfolk gathering of Drinking Liberally. As I was about to leave, I got into a conversation with somebody who said that if Obama wasn’t the nominee, she would be voting for McCain. Besides my usual “that’s crazy” remark, I reminded her that unless the president takes an entire new Congress with him/her, expecting a whole lot from a president really doesn’t make sense. If you’re really interested in getting things done, I said, you’ve got to get the president some help. So go out and volunteer on Glen Nye’s campaign, I said.

She said “who?” I repeated the name. She said, “sorry, I don’t know who you’re talking about.” I said, the Democratic candidate running against Thelma Drake. She looked confused, as if she didn’t recognize that name, either.

See, that’s what presidential elections do. They bring out voters, sometimes referred to as federal voters, who have little interest the rest of the time in what’s going on.

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Earlier last week, I had a client call me about a penalty he had received for not filing his state corporate return on time. The penalty is $1,200 and since the law changed a couple of years ago (it was $100), I’ve not seen anyone get out of paying it. I told him that he should contact his state representative. I asked him if he knew who it was. He said, “Some lady, I think.” Knowing that he lives in Virginia Beach, I said “Terrie Suit?” No, he said, another lady. Well, the only other lady I could come up with was Thelma Drake. Yes, he said. Um, no. She’s your Congressional rep, not your state rep. Hmm. He had no clue so I punched in his address using the link I keep here. Unfortunately, the site was down but I was able to make a phone call and figure out who his rep was so that he could get in touch and voice his concern.

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Neither of these people are dumb. One is a lawyer, the other a dentist. Yet they both demonstrate what I consider to be a fundamental problem in America today: a lack of understanding of how government works. And it’s a shame. Because come November, they will be voting.

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28 thoughts on “All politics is local

  1. Actually, I look at this issue totally the other way. The problem isn’t the people. The problem is government. I find it odd that while we’ve grown a government overly complex and overly burdensome, that when people don’t understand it, we blame the people.

    The people are right. American Government shouldn’t be the maze that it is.

  2. I agree that the civics and government education citizens receive is not sufficient. However, people are understandably focused on their own lives. Many people do not see how local politics and to a certain extent they are correct. Thus if their vote, political involvement, or knowledge of the political process does not seem to directly affect them, self-interest dictates that they focus on more immediate concerns such as tomorrow’s weather or what is for dinner. Thus without a grand spectacle like a presidential election I suspect political interest will over all continue to remain low.

  3. At minimum, voting adults should be able to tell the difference between a national or state/local issue and ought to know who their elected officials are at those levels. This information is hardly a secret, especially with tools like Google to help the uninformed.

    I don’t buy the excuse that they are too busy with other pressures in life. We make time for what is important and too many Americans do not take government service seriously or make understanding it a part of their lives. Of course, the media and popular culture has only added to the problem by making the term “politician” a bad name.

    And then there are the political parties and candidates that insist on running against “Washington” or “Richmond”, making the case that a strong government is a bad thing and that governmnet’s sole role is to attack “the people”. Cue the flags and film of families with happy children listening intently to a candidate trash “big goverment”…

    I used to think that everyone had a duty to vote in every election. After years of working on campaigns and serving as an election officer, I’m now convinced that those who choose to ignore current events and are too lazy to research the issues and candidates should just stay home and watch their favorite reality show instead. It’s people like that who have given us the likes of George Bush and the current republican party hacks in government.

    So to put it in a sound bite for the general public, if all this government stuff is too hard for you to understand, just stay home and leave the voting to the rest of us.

  4. Mouse – my thought is that perhaps they will pay more attention and learn something. That is not inconsistent.

    BK – knowing the differences between federal, state and local government is not overly complex. Haven’t we had these three layers almost since the beginning of this nation?

    Stephen – the closer government is to the people, the more the government plays an important role and the more influence the people have. Who sets the real estate tax rates? Who sets the water rates? Who decides whether we need a new facility or a new school? Those decisions affect our lives every day.

    Terry – I understand your frustration. But take a look at the TJ quote in my sidebar. Educating the voters is the key. But the politicians haven’t shown any desire to do that.

  5. Vivian, yes we have, but since the beginning of this nation have those three layers been so infused in our lives? Who runs education? Local, state, federal? That question would be easy to answer in 1790. Today? I could write a treatise about each one.

  6. Good point. Screw the Department of the Army for wanting the government to nationally standardize some aspects of education so recruits from Scranton started boot camp on equal footing with recruits from the Philadelphia. Also, that activist Federal court intervention in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka? Screw that too.

    *rolls eyes*

  7. “[Perhaps] they will pay more attention and learn something….”

    I love it when your naivete shows through!

  8. Pfft. As the little indian quilt tiles have proven, I am in fact the only person who posts as “anonymous” on Vivian’s blog. It’s simply the least-creative psuedonymn ever. Just because I don’t want people taking pictures of me and mocking my jean shorts at Bobby Mathieson’s football games doesn’t mean I’m not standing by my comments. 😉

  9. If those elected would ensure transparency and open government in their positions, far more would have enough interest in their local politics to recognize their representatives. Vivian Page: The reason people don’t know is because politicians don’t really want them to know.

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