All politics is national

One-time House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s assertion that “all politics is local” is one of those comments that strikes such a deep chord of recognition that it has since all but entered into the language. But a small off-year special election in the second Congressional district of Ohio on August 2 tells us that that truth might be changing. Going forward, all politics will still be local, but in turn all local politics is now becoming national. The reason is the Internet.

Paul Hackett is an Iraq war vet who opposes many of the administration’s policies. He decided to run for United States Congressman in a district that gave Bush 64 percent of the vote last November and in which the previous incumbent (who left to take an administration appointment) had won over 70 percent of the vote several times in a row. For these reasons, as recently as two months ago, the seat was considered a sinecure for the Republican nominee.

Enter the blogosphere. Some of Hackett’s supporters started entering information about his candidacy on the web on sites like DailyKos, probably the largest political blog. Interest was aroused; excitement was generated; funds were raised—as much as $500,000 out of the total of $750,000 for the campaign. The din eventually woke up the mainstream media, which invited Hackett to appear in interviews on television and in national magazines.

Before the election political analyst Charles Cook wrote, “A Schmidt [Hackett’s opponent] win of less than five points should be a very serious warning sign for Ohio Republicans that something is very, very wrong.” Hackett lost in the end, but by only four points—enough to send a shock through the Republican Party and give Democratic activists, badly in need of motivation after a long string of losses, a jolt of inspiration.

The first point to note is that an obscure local election became a national event, and one that has the potential to shift the course of the political future. The local became an influence on the national in a way that would not have been possible without the Internet. The second point is that the lines of influence also flow the other way. Most of that $500,000 generated did not come from Ohio. It came in small amounts from individuals all over the nation. That means that the national also had a huge influence on the local.

In a way, this is scary. Do we really want our district elections influenced by some guy in Ohio or Texas? But for those who object to the idea that money from out of county can influence our elections: too late. There’s already “foreign” money coming in to tightly fought elections, only until now it’s come either by way of big corporations or the Republican or Democratic national committees, largely funded by the same big corporations and the wealthy individuals who are their officers. The change the Internet has made is that now working-class people as well as big organizations from outside our districts can start having a say outside their own territory.

The good news is that there’s a chance that this change will help clear up a longstanding problem with government. Polls consistently show that the public thinks Congress is doing a lousy job, but their own representative a good one. And the reason is simple: all most people know about their own representatives is that they’re bringing home the pork, whereas what they know about Congress in general is that it’s failing to handle national issues like health care or job outsourcing. But our own representatives are voting on bills affecting the national issues as well; we just generally don’t know how and don’t take the trouble to find out—as long as we’re well fed on all that pork.

The out-of-state people who contributed to Hackett’s election didn’t care one way or another about the pork he’d take home. What they did care about was how he would vote on the big-picture issues that affect all of us. And as annoying as the idea of having outsiders interfering in elections for our districts’ representatives is, it may have the salutary effect of raising our consciousness that our votes affect a lot more than whether there’s going to be a gazebo in our town park. The Internet may be forcing us to develop a sense of community that extends far beyond our backyard, and in the end, we could all be the winners.

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Dr. Punnybone

Which Hazel?

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Mamakating’s not for sale

I am writing not only as the elected legislator for District 2 but also as a resident of the Town of Mamakating to lend my voice to the majority of tax paying residents who rightly believe that Yukiguni Maitake mushroom plant will be an economic and environmental tragedy for our community. The more we learn of the true facts regarding this industrial project in the heart of Mamakating, which is demanding five zoning variances from our Zoning Board of Appeals, the more our considered judgment turns against it. Congressman Maurice Hinchey strongly opposes it and Bill Pammer, commissioner of the Sullivan County Planning Department, has urged the zoning board not to grant the variances.

I, for one, do not believe the mass-market publicity campaign that the company has recently undertaken. How dare they presume to tell us what is best for our community when they do not live here, pay taxes here, nor raise their families here?