One of the more abused quotations of modern times has been the one attributed — perhaps erroneously and perhaps even apocryphally — to the late former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local."
One application of that idea is that voters everywhere, even in national elections, when asked to consider issues of great pitch and moment, examine them for their local relevance. That's yet another reason why, in the presidential election just past, both major candidates bore down on the matter of jobs-jobs-jobs and why their competition was so avid in large states like Ohio that had been particularly hard hit by the never-ending recession and were as rich in electoral votes as they were poor in material fortune.
We would suggest, however, that the old chestnut needs to be retired. If the presidential election of 2012 proved anything, it was that national tendencies influenced local outcomes. There is, for example, the much-discussed "browning of America," a phrase used to describe the increasing percentage of the American population that is African-American, Asian, Latino, or some ethnicity other than Anglo-Saxon or Northern European. Hispanics, in particular, clearly had a hard time trusting in the GOP's Mitt Romney after he advocated "self-deportation" as a remedy for what may not even be a problem, much less one that should be solved that way.
There was the so-called gender gap, too, the traditional preference of unmarried women for Democratic candidates. The Romney-Ryan ticket tried to defuse that one by arguing that women were much more concerned about pocketbook issues than those having to do with, say, reproductive freedom. Wrong.
It was not surprising, therefore, even a little gratifying, and very auspicious for the future of the two-party system to hear GOP spokespersons, in the wake of their 2012 election defeat, admit that the Republican Party needed to rethink its unrelentingly nativist and reactionary immigration policy. Ditto with the GOP's throwback attitudes toward women's prerogatives (economic, in fact, as well as merely sexual).
And now — wonder of wonders! — Republicans in Congress have begun, however grudgingly, to desanctify Grover Norquist (he of the no-tax pledge) and even to admit that the nation has a right to expect more of a financial contribution from higher-income Americans (who, incidentally, did very well under the higher income-tax percentages imposed by the Clinton administration).
All these realizations have now occurred at a national rather than a local level, and there is every reason to believe that they will filter down to this or that locality — maybe even eventually to our own neck of the woods, where, at the moment, a majority of voters tend to vote reflexively in favor of one party. These days, it's the Republican Party, though for more than a hundred years the Southern preference was for Democrats.
But even that phenomenon reflects not so much local concerns as Southern voters' identification with ideologies and policies held (or thought to be held) by the national party they favor. And, as the national balance of power shifts, so might it shift below the Mason-Dixon line.
But that, clearly, is going to take awhile.