There’s an old saying: “All politics are local.”
The phrase, attributed to longtime House Speaker Tip O’Neill, emphasized his belief that a politician’s success is directly tied to an ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents. Put simply, elected officials must appeal to the mundane and everyday concerns of those they represent because it’s those intimate matters — not lofty, intangible concepts — that voters care about most.
But the saying also can be applied to major political parties and their problems.
With Republican presidential nominee John McCain now trailing in most polls with less than a month until Election Day, his campaign has let it be known it will try to divert attention away from the financial crisis befalling the U.S. economy and instead focus on the alleged character defects of Barack Obama, his Democratic rival. In other words, it’s time to begin slinging mud in earnest and see what, if anything, sticks.
Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, started the latest assault Oct. 4 with her remarks that Obama was “palling around with terrorists” due to his passing association with William Ayers, a former 1960s radical who lives near Obama in Chicago and gave support to his 1995 state senate campaign.
It’s become clear that the McCain/Palin ticket is intellectually bankrupt and has run out of substantive policy ideas that appeal to middle-class voters and their concerns. Because the GOP has spent the better part of the last decade preaching the Gospel of Unfettered Free Markets and pushing the idea that virtually all regulation and oversight is bad for business, the party finds itself with little defense now that the Wall Street ship has run aground.
To be sure, many congressional Democrats were willing accomplices during that time, but it was Republican leaders who were steering the ship and setting policy. Most Americans are breathing a sigh of relief that another of the GOP’s chief plans from that era, the privatization of Social Security, never occurred.
Just as the national Republican Party finds itself adrift and without clear direction so, too, does it local counterpart.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the bungling and gaffes of the Hamilton County Republican Party and its chairman, Alex Triantafilou. Last month the local party was cited by the Ohio Auditor’s Office for improperly spending about $800 in taxpayer money on a lavish meeting held at downtown’s private Queen City Club. The February 2007 meeting of the party’s executive committee included such expenses as hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, a private room and parking.
Of course, if the GOP wants to spend its contributions from rank-and-file members throwing a shindig for party leaders so they can decide on endorsements and other matters, it’s certainly allowed — unless the cash comes from the account that includes proceeds from the Ohio Political Party Fund, which some of it did.
That’s the fund taxpayers can voluntarily choose to support by checking a box on income tax forms. Such funds can be used only for activities that directly benefit the party, such as voter registration efforts and administrative duties.
When informed of the violation by state officials, Triantafilou reimbursed the fund but remained defiant. “I still reject the notion that it’s taxpayer money, because it’s a voluntary contribution,” he told The Enquirer. “They’re not being involuntarily taxed, they’re making a choice to support that fund.”
Such an attitude reveals the true beliefs of many people currently in power at the Republican Party. While they try to peg Democrats as “elitists” and out of touch, their own haughty ways expose just how disconnected they are from the everyday Americans struggling to make ends meet.
Perhaps if the GOP suffers enough losses in November it will cause leaders to remember their roots in the tradition of fiscal conservatism, balanced budgets and being more concerned with what’s good for Main Street instead of well-heeled contributors and their lobbyists.
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