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Does Local Politics Matter in Connecticut Presidential Elections?

Tip O'Neill

It is always difficult during an election year to separate the wheat from the tares until the elections have been concluded, at which point most information is stale and useless to politicians on the make.

One important datum in the 2020 elections, as in all elections, concerns base turnout and negative campaigning. What turns people off often turns them out. That is why so called “negative political ads” excite and alarm politicians and media adepts.

It is generally assumed that President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both have unbudgable base support, that early campaign polling is reliable, that election messaging must appeal beyond the base to unaffiliated voters whose political preferences have not been sufficiently probed by Harvard and Yale political scientists, that state politics is less important than federal politics, and that political results in elections are determined by  personalities rather than policies, which might explain why most debates are short on policy prescriptions and interminably long on personal attacks.

Certainly all the above notions are debatable, which raises yet another political question -- do political debates any longer matter? Does media reporting, almost universally hostile to Trump, matter? Trump hates the media, and the hatred is paid back in kind. Will the daily drip of anti-Trump venom in the media, returned in kind by Trump, affect the upcoming 2020 presidential vote? Does any of it matter?

If one pays attention to political commentators – do they matter? -- Republican voters regard Biden as an empty vessel into which progressives with knives in their brains will pour their toxic ideological brew immediately after he is sworn in as president, while freedom lovers among Democrats regard Trump as the modern equivalent of the mad Roman emperor Caligula, an unrepentant tyrant. Only term limits and a wide-awake media prevent a prolongation of the Trump tyranny.

So then, what matters? Is all politics still local, as Democrat Speaker of the U.S. House during the President Ronald Reagan administration once asserted?

O’Neill was President Ronald Reagan’s opposite number on the Democrat side of the political barricades. The two were well mannered towards each other, but not bosom pals. O’Neill said of Reagan that the president “wasn't without leadership ability, but he lacked most of the management skills that a President needs. But let me give him his due: he would have made a hell of a king.” He likened Reagan to Herbert Hoover – “Herbert Hoover with a smile” he said, “a cheerleader for selfishness.”

Comparing O'Neill to the classic arcade game Pac-Man, Reagan said in one of his speeches that O’Neill was "a round thing that gobbles up money.” He joked that he had received a valentine card he knew was from O’Neill. “I knew it was from Tip, because the heart was bleeding."

The usual political riff on Reagan-O’Neill is that the two were friends off the political battlefield. Not true, said Craig Shirley, who had written four bestsellers on Reagan:

If people want to look for bipartisan measures between the executive and legislative branches, they shouldn’t look to Reagan and O’Neill. Instead, they should look to President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich. True, the latter helped impeach the former, but before that hoopla went down, the two did restore the economy, and they did pass major reforms. No, they weren’t best friends. But there was a substantial ability to compromise, far more so than Reagan and O’Neill.

Is O’Neill’s immutable political law that all politics is local any longer true?

What O’Neill meant by his apothegm is this: Federal laws and policies written by Congress and signed into law by presidents eventually trickle down to the states and municipalities. If they are beneficial, voters will take note and reward their benefactors by retaining them in office. If they are harmful, tormented voters, acting democratically in their own interests, will sooner or later “throw the bums out!”

We now come to Connecticut, our local theatre of political action, and ask whether voters tormented by a gubernatorial autocracy will in the 2020 elections throw their tormentors out. While Governor Ned Lamont is not up for reelection in 2020, all the seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs. Have the present run of Connecticut politicians restored Connecticut’s economy, as did Clinton, the last president to discharge the nation’s debt, and his Republican antagonist, Gingrich?

The answer is – no. Connecticut is laboring under a $68 billion debt that preceded the Coronavirus infestation. Spending has grown by leaps and bounds under the withering hand of a longstanding Democrat dominated General Assembly.

Despite the headlines and misleading ledes – “Pratt&Whitney to cut 450 jobs: Commercial aviation facing steep declines as a result of pandemic” -- a virus is not a politician and therefore cannot be held responsible for ruinous policies that have caused job losses. The virus has written none – not one – of the possibly unconstitutional dicta issued by Governor Ned Lamont during the last half year, and Coronavirus certainly is not responsible for extending for another five months the plenary powers of a governor who, in the absence of fully functioning legislative and judicial branches of government, is a far more autocratic chief executive than the yellow-haired hobgoblin anti-Trump Democrats rightly or wrongly despise.

In this sense – the only sense that matters – politics is no longer local. Voters for some time have NOT been voting their own interests. It is impossible in the kind of democracy celebrated by O’Neill to imagine voters indifferent to crippling debt, improvident spending, autocratic governors, and solitary confinement.


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