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.


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.


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.


28 thoughts on “All politics is local

  1. I agree with you partially, Viv, but one thing you fail to take into account is the degree to which these politicians look like interchangeable bureaucrats to most people. I’ve pointed this out in a comment here before, but it bears repeating. I find that Democrats agree with me in principle that certain liberties need to be protected. But these same Dems also advocate government controls in other areas, with which I totally disagree. Republicans are the same, but the liberties they want to protect vs. the ones they want to take away are, more or less, the inverse of those advocated by Dems.

    So if congress(or the general assembly) consists of a 50-50 split between D’s and R’s, I might hope that both will fight for the liberties they say they want to protect, but that isn’t the way it ever happens. What they both focus on is obtaining the controls that they each want to impose. Though neither gets all of what they want, they compromise, and permit each other half of the awful laws they want to pass. So I still get a net loss of liberty, and switching the bureaucrat that sits in the seat only changes the controls that my alleged representative wants to impose.

    How much of this does a normal person have to witness before throwing one’s arms in the air? Meet the new boss. He’s the same as the old boss.

  2. I have to disagree, Rick. It’s not a matter or party or ideal. It’s a simple matter of knowing how stuff works. I should have expanded on my conversation with the lawyer above: this person seemed to not understand that legislation comes from Congress, not the president. The dentist truly had no idea that state penalties are the result of state legislation.

    Making an informed decision to tune out is one thing. Tuning out without information and letting the critters run wild is quite another.

  3. Oh, I appreciate that point, believe me. I use a different phrase than “all politics is local”, though. I prefer to point out that “just because you’re not interested in politics does not mean politics is not interested in you”.

  4. In defense of my point, though, even knowing how stuff works is an exercise in futility. Most of the laws made these days on all levels of government violate either U.S. or state constitution. If the elected bureaucrats don’t adhere to their own laws, How does one keep up with how stuff works?

    You can’t even use the courts to change this anymore. SCOTUS recently heard a case where the We the People organization tried to get the IRS to answer some questions, using the redress of grievances clause of the constitution. SCOTUS essentially decided that redress of grievances doesn’t require any government agency to actually answer anyone’s grievances.

    So what the hell good is it, then?

    In California, medical marijuana has been made legal, and there are dispensaries around the state, where they sell it, by prescription. The DEA has used federal laws as a premise to raid these dispensaries, then seize the cash and the product. But they don’t place anyone under arrest. If they would arrest somebody and bring charges their would be a hearing, and due process. The feds would have to justify their raid. State authority vs. federal would be at issue in a public court. But by taking the cash without an arrest, the burden of proof is on the property owner to prove that they didn’t obtain the cash by illicit means.

    Knowing how stuff works is useless when the bureaucrats move the goalposts arbitrarily, and the courts won’t stop them.

  5. There are those who want to be Eloi, they don’t want to know the details of how things work. Those who want to be Morlocks, they thrive on the nitty-gritty details and enjoy learning the process inside and out.

    Since everyone has the right to vote, wether they are Morlocks or Eloi by tendency, one hopes that the Morlocks of the political world will work hard to stay in tough with lots of Eloi and to remain professional and patient when explaining things to them; so come election time the Morlocks can inject and little sensible wisdom into the Eloi and help them vote.

    The trick is finding the hot-button that actually motivates an Eloi to become a Morlock on an issue or two…

    Thank you for being helpful and patient Vivian, you rock… and thank you also for understanding how the system works. People like you make democracy possible.

  6. I think you comment was outstanding. You clearly stated a problem that is endemic in our society. It does not only apply to pollitics but in all sectors. People recognize the forest but not the trees. It is only those interested in learning about the trees that know anything about the forest. Unfortunately those that know are in the minority and have to live with the dicisions of the majority…. those who do not know the trees. Sometimes those decisions are not so great!

  7. Vivian,

    One thought:

    Is it possible that when it comes to “the government” most people think only of Washington and the Feds simply due to the fact that the Federal Government has become such an all pervasive part of American life that it’s only natural for them to assume that Washington —- rather than Richmond, or City Hall, or the County BOCS — is responsible for what ails them ?

  8. All very true. Even worse than these professionals and lack of knowledge on the local level is the whole generational swath of ignorance on every level. 65% of students, i would bet, would not know who John McCain is. They are the ultimate personality voters, being far too apathetic about anything to truly make choices on policy; at any level.

  9. This is so frustrating. And I just wonder how you remedy it. I have encountered this as well. Even when it comes to very local participation, like HOAs and Civic Associations, there is a lack of interest. In addition, I encounter just apathy. You can tell people about serious issues in state government and they don’t care enough do anything about it. This coal fired power plant in SW VA is a perfect example. If a substantial number of people in Dominion’s service territory (NoVA and Hampton Roads) wrote the governor and their state reps, Dominion would cave on this. I can only guess that people don’t care because it isn’t in their backyard and/or there desire to be green is only superficial. Maybe they don’t know the toxic air pollutants that coal plants produce.

    We have all of these big issues facing our country, but people either don’t care or don’t care enough. The media has been saying that all these new people that Obama is bringing out will have a lasting impact on political participation in America. I happen to hold a more pessimistic view. I think a lot of these people will just fade back into society after this process is over. It will be: “I got him elected, now I am done.” We’ll see though.

    It seems that we are not able to deal with problems until whatever fire it happens to be is burning our house down. What makes us so focused on short-term rewards and neglect long-term consequences? How do we get greater participation and a more informed public?

  10. Morlocks and Eloi? No idea what you’re talking about here but I think I get your point. Yes, there are a lot of folks who get don’t want to get bogged down in the details – of anything, including politics. We call them the “big picture” folks. But it really is possible to see the big picture and still be able to see the “trees.”

    Students have an excuse, Ian. They are young 🙂 But the older folks? I think tx2vadem hit it on the head: apathy. That’s why they call them federal voters, tx. They only show up once every 4 years (if that). And I’m with you – I doubt we’ll see any fundamental change in participation after the election.

    I wish it were different. I really do. It would be so much easier on all of us. From where I sit, one thing that might be accomplished is that not only would more people be involved, more people would be running for office. And I think the cost of running would fall, because instead of all that paid staff, there would be a larger portion that is made up of volunteers.

    Oh well. A gal can hope, right?

  11. What confuses me, is that you seem to be lamenting that ignoramuses will be voting in November, but you have advocated moving local elections to November. Why? So you can have more ignoramuses voting for city council?

    If they’re not willing to show up in the Spring, why would they do any research in the Fall?

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