All politics is local. — Tip O’Neil (D-MA), Speaker of the House (1977-87).
Tip O’Neil was wrong.
O’Neil thought that all national issues were really about street-level ones — that everything devolved to the petty self-interest of the individual voter and how a policy would benefit or harm each one personally. His mistake was ignoring both the peer pressure of people to ignore that petty self-interest for principles they know to be true, and to put their short-term interest aside for the greater good of the larger group — which will in the end help them more.
But O’Neil was also right. And to take back the Party, and the nation, we need to learn how.
There is a big difference between politics as we practice it on blogs and see played out on the national scene and how it’s done at the local level. We make arguments and confront ideas, trying to rally people to our cause. We are ideologically driven. Local politics is about people — how they laugh, what they wear, and what their quirks are.
There are two sides to local politics: what happens in the cafes and front porches between the party member and the individual voter, and what happens in the committee meetings and telephone calls with retail-level bureaucrats. Good interpersonal interactions in both of these instances generate loyalty and positive favor, but friction and discord create animosity.
The more loyalty and positive favor you can generate, the more people will be receptive to your ideas.
And this happens at the state and national level, as well. The micropolitics of interpersonal interactions between politicians, lobbyists, staffers, and surrogates determine personal loyalties, which in the end determine, other things being equal, who gets whose vote.
Other things being equal, I said. Other things are equal when ideology is removed from the picture, as it often is at the local level. Philosophical points don’t usually matter in questions of local government, since everyone pretty much agrees whose job it is to fix a pothole or jail a thug. When members of the same party get together, ideology is usually more or less shared. And when people go to Washington, they tend to lose their ideology and devote themselves to becoming conduits for turning taxes into pork.
And so the cloakroom and bar tab politicking translates into political decisions. All politics is local. People are the same, whether in local committees or on telephone calls with the Street and Sewer department.
To retake the nation, we have to make sure that ideology stays in Washington. We need to find politicians and their hangers on who believe that government must be kept small for the people to remain free — and that the people should remain free in the first place.
But to find bureaucrats of good character and belief, we need right-thinking politicians.
To find right-thinking politicians, we need right-thinking state party chairmen.
To find right-thinking state party chairmen, we need right-thinking county chairmen.
To find right-thinking county chairmen, we need a majority of right-thinking precinct committeemen.
And that’s you, gentle reader. You can, and must, join the party structure and retake it.
When you sign up (*) to be a Precinct Committeeman, and talk to the County Chairman for the first time, make sure to tell him you back the Party platform and just want to help the Party, or words to that effect.
And in a sense, you do — you want to help the Party by making it more conservative. But he’ll interpret it as you just wanting to set up tables and chairs for chicken dinners, which is part of the job, too. So be careful not to lie, unless you enjoy setting up folding chairs as much as I do.
Treat the county insiders as you would any constituent: find out first what their issues are and whether they enjoy discussing them before you state your own opinion. Some of them will be self-serving squishes, and if you self-identify as a bomb thrower they will work against you — and they’re better at it.
Identify the ideologically-driven people, what their hot buttons are, and whether you agree with them. Most of the time all you need is body language, nodding along with a hunter, pro-lifer, low-taxer, or whoever. Since, like me, you’re probably an all-of-the-above conservative, that’s easy enough. See who laughs at which jokes. People have an odd mix of opinions, so don’t assume everyone is like you. Generate good will and loyalty first, then fight any battles — if by then you find they truly need fought.
Remember that the fight is not to root out the pro-choice people or those who are soft on gun rights. The battle is to root out the people who are in it for the power and prestige of being in it — for the greetings in the marketplaces. We want to put ideology into government, because when the battle is about ideas, we win. When it’s about who can spend the most money, we lose. Along the way a lot of squishes who happen to be pro-choice and gun-grabbing Republicans will fall out, and so much the better.
And we’ll have to do it one cafe, one State Chairman, and one Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief Director for Time Studies at a time.
Because all politics is local.
See the Concord Project.
I’m on Twitter.
(* I saw the article at that link after I’d written this post.)