To paraphrase Jerry Garcia, my book tour has been a long, strange trip - but as my newspaper column this week notes, it has been strange in how much of the same I've seen.
As our culture has homogenized and as our economy has been Wal-Mart-ized, our politics have - rather unfortunately - followed suit. As I've found in my travels, the concept of thinking globally, acting locally is a foreign one to many political activists. No matter where you go, the focus is almost exclusively on federal elections - and more specifically, the presidential election - to the exclusion of almost everything else.
I'm not saying great local work isn't being done - it sure is. But it is undeniable that the political focus in this country - whether among rank-and-file voters or even among activists - is almost completely on the palace drama of presidential campaigns.
The rise of truly "national politics" is something of a modern phenomenon. In many past eras, Congress and the presidency has been seen as secondary or merely equal in importance to state and local politics. A century ago, for instance, a congressional seat was seen as almost a ceremonial position when compared to offices like mayor or alderman.
The column delves into why there has been such a monumental shift in political focus. And let me be clear: the change is due to more than just a broad shift toward cultural homogenization. Congress and the president has usurped more and more power from states, meaning the federal arena has, indeed, become more important in recent years than it was in the past.
That said, the balance is way out of whack. You can have a conversation about the presidential race with almost anyone these days - yet most people have no idea who their state legislator is. Just like Wal-Mart has destroyed local downtown commerce, the one-size-fits-all national political culture is destroying local political cultures all over America.
As I say in the column, there are certainly some upsides to the homogenization of our politics. We can have truly national conversations about major issues. But the downside is that for all the sound and fury of national cable television and radio talk shows, many of the most pressing crises we now face require major changes in state and local political arenas. And if those arenas are ignored under a flood of cable television shows that make, say, David Gergen's blathering about the latest presidential soap opera drama more important than, say, your local legislator's votes, then those crises are not going to be solved - or worse, they will be manipulated by Big Money interests that will fill the political void at the state and local level because they know those arenas are where the real rubber hits the road.
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