Commentary Magazine


All Local Politics Is National

Jen cites a USA Today/Gallup poll that finds an overwhelming 72 percent of those surveyed Wednesday say Brown’s victory “reflects frustrations shared by many Americans, and the president and members of Congress should pay attention to it.” Just 18 percent say it “reflects political conditions in Massachusetts and doesn’t have a larger meaning for national politics.”

That will come to news to E.J. Dionne Jr., who, in a frantic pre-spin piece over at the Washington Post, wrote, “the important local factors of the sort [the Boston Globe's Joan] Vennochi underscores shouldn’t be overlooked in the effort to draw grand lessons about what this race means for the future of Obama, liberalism and our republic itself. Election results rarely have a single explanation.” Elsewhere in his PostPartisan piece, Dionne quotes Tip O’Neill’s line “All politics is still local.”

How convenient for E.J. to stumble across this insight just before the Democratic party’s historic loss in Massachusetts. Of course, every non-presidential election has some element of local politics involved; what made the Massachusetts race unusual is the degree to which it was nationalized and had national implications.

It should be said that Dionne’s track record is fairly spotty during the Age of Obama. Last week he predicted that the national attention of the race came just in the nick of time and that Martha Coakley would pull out a victory in his home state. And back in May, Dionne was counseling Republicans that they had to decide between “doctrinal purity” and winning — and that winning meant nominating “Obama huggers” — Republicans who had figuratively embraced the Obama agenda and literally embraced Obama himself.

Right now you can hardly find Democrats who want to hug Obama, figuratively or literally; and perhaps no non-presidential election in our lifetime has had larger meaning for national politics. The political ground has been shifting underneath us for many months now; much of the political class has ignored it. It will be interesting to see if liberals end their self-delusion in the wake of Brown’s epic win. I rather doubt they will.