Tuesday, March 22, 2016

All politics is national

"Washington style gridlock" has come to Louisiana.
At the end of the special legislative session earlier this month, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he worried that Louisiana could soon face the same partisan gridlock that has ground the nation’s capital to a halt.

The latest installment of the Louisiana Survey may back up his fears.

Based on the LSU Public Policy Research Lab’s latest findings, the perceived gap between Democrat and Republican ideological views is growing in Louisiana and fewer than half of voters believe leaders should work across the aisle toward compromise.

With a Democrat as governor and GOP-controlled chambers of the state Legislature, research director Michael Henderson said the survey’s findings seem to indicate that Louisiana could be barreling toward a “nightmare scenario” of gridlock, a la Washington, D.C.

“We often operate with this myth that state politics are a separate sphere from national politics,” Henderson said. “That’s just not so.”
Okay, well, beyond the implication that "ideology" in politics is somehow bad, this article doesn't even attempt to explain what may be causing local political disputes to be defined on more national terms. It's not a spontaneously generated phenomenon. It's a direct result of the growing influence of national Super-PACs and lobbying groups on local elections, not only in Louisiana, but all across the country. 
WASHINGTON — The influence of billionaires in the post-Citizens United era is in no way limited to the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. 

While the super-wealthy dominate those races, local and state elections in 2015 are also attracting big money from Forbes-listed billionaires and local wealthy interests that’s funneled through super PACs.

Not all states, cities and municipalities hold elections on even-numbered years. On Nov. 3, voters in Kentucky and Mississippi will hold gubernatorial and legislative elections, and voters in New Jersey and Virginia will vote on legislative candidates. Louisiana held its pre-runoff election for governor and many other down-ballot races on Oct. 24, and will hold a runoff on Nov. 21. Many other cities and municipalities have held or will hold elections this year, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville and Dallas, among many others.
The "nationalization" of state politics was evident during the 2015 governor's election as well as the 2014 Senate race where ads relentlessly linked John Bel Edwards and Mary Landrieu to President Obama. Longtime observers of state politics may have found it a bit jarring.  But this is bound to be the new normal at the state level.. and even on down as far as the school board, potentially
WASHINGTON — The campaign fliers landed in mailboxes last September and October, urging voters in Elizabeth, N.J., to toss out several members of the school board.

The source of the glossy mailers: the Committee for Economic Growth and Social Justice, an innocuously named super PAC registered in Washington to accept and spend unlimited amounts of campaign cash to influence politics — in this case, who would win three unpaid positions on a board that runs a 25,000-student school district.
Nationalized local politics is here.  It's advent has been obvious for some time.  The pattern is easy to discern. For example, in January 2014, the Koch funded Americans For Prosperity opened a Louisiana chapter.  By November of that year most of Bill Cassidy's ads were attacks on President Obama featuring his opponent Mary Landrieu as a minor afterthought. Clancy DuBos picked up on it right away.
Back in the 1930s, a young Tip O’Neill declared, “All politics is local,” and for generations that was an ironclad rule in American politics. No longer. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case freed corporations, unions and billionaires to spend limitless amounts of money on political campaigns. This year, they did just that.

Nowadays, all politics is national.

Anyone who follows local, state or national politics knows that money often dictates who wins and who loses. We’ve all heard the old saw that money is the mother’s milk of politics. If that’s true, what’s so different about this election?

Two things: the sources and the amounts of money that are now available.
Now I might argue that there are reasons a nationalized politics might not be such a bad thing.  It may be useful, for example, for voters to think more concretely about the ways their local school board elections relate to national questions about the nature of public education. It might be helpful for voters to think about how their city councilperson's stance on short term rentals confronts not just the state of one's own neighborhood but also the reach of global capitalist enterprises like AirBnB

At the same time, it's important to understand that the kind of nationalized campaigns we're seeing, fueled as they are by money, tend to represent the goals of the money power. Which is one reason that, while the causes of the new politics are obvious, it benefits our ostensibly populist politicians to pretend not to understand them.

After the legislative special session ended this month, Governor Edwards put on a sad for the press over the advent of "Washington style politics" in Louisiana. Dramatically, the governor vowed to "fight against it with every fiber of my being." But because he did not name the PACs as the cause of his supposed enemy, we have to wonder if he is serious about fighting it.  After all, if the governor actually admits he knows who funds the "Washington style politics" he hates so much, how can continue to collect their money himself?

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