The more I think about Tip O’Neill’s old adage “All politics is local,” the less it makes sense. When I first heard it in the ’80s, it sounded spot on. People care about their wallets and their backyards, and when they vote, they express those local priorities. But consider the negative space the phrase defines. “No politics is national” sounds patently wrong in an election season during which I have to clear my inbox of vitriolic political spam on an hourly basis to avoid being crushed by it. The financial disclosures in the Cuccinelli-McAuliffe race show that over 40 percent of their money comes from national partisan groups, even though our state has deep pockets.
And then you start to think how totally un-local the messaging feels on television ads and in the blogosphere, and you find yourself in a place where O’Neill’s mantra rings with a resounding absurdity. In fact, if an authoritative, red-nosed Irish pol with a lock on Congress stepped out on the Capitol steps one day and declared “All politics is national,” I’d buy it.
This week’s feature on Delegate David Toscano tells the story of how a local politician has waded into deeper water, dragging supporters from his deep-pocketed backyard into the messy fight to re-establish a statewide party power base. Toscano is every bit a Democrat, but he’s never been seen as a partisan. He is well-respected by his colleagues, well-liked by his neighbors, and well-protected in his district. Virginia Democratic leaders chose him as House minority leader because they knew they couldn’t win swing districts expressing priorities from Norfolk and Arlington. Toscano’s job is to paint Richmond purple.
Meanwhile, at the city and county level, the candidates are running their races close to the center rail. Fiscal responsibility, long a Republican code word for no taxes, is now a shared battle cry, while long-range planning, Democratic speak for government interference, elicits substantive responses from both tickets. Maybe it’s just that we’re situated along the border of the urban-rural divide that has defined the national political discourse for the past two decades, but it makes me wonder if without the third-party money we’d be able to say “All politics is practical,” and sort of believe it.