The headline on p. A1 of the June 16 New York Times read: “Population Shifts Turning All Politics National.” The story by Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin drew that conclusion from the results of two elections, the one in Virginia that cost Eric Cantor his position as majority leader in the House and one in Mississippi that could unseat another Republican leader, Senator Thad Cochran.
The story suggested that “the growth fueled by a migration of newcomers from other parts of the and even abroad is bringing nationalized politics in races further down the ballot…For all the talk about how partisan polarization is overwhelming Washington, there is another powerful, overlapping force at play: Voters who are not deeply rooted increasingly view politics through a generic national lens.”
As a result, the story proposed that “the axiom that ‘all politics is local’ is increasingly anachronistic.”
But it’s just this axiom that inspired Dave Carr’s The Medium Equation column (“Reporters’ Beltway Blind Spot In a Congressman’s Defeat”) of the same day on p. B1: “All politics is local, which may explain why The Richmond Times –Dispatch and the Chesterfield Observer both took David Brat’s Tea Party Challenge to Mr. Cantor seriously, but few of the publications inside the District that follow the majority leader’s every wiggle and wobble sensed that he was leaving the home fires dangerously unattended.”
Carr’s column quotes Jim McConnell, a staff reporter on the Chesterfield Observer, a large weekly in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia about Bret’s sensational victory over Cantor: “Any credible journalist would have seen it – all I did was talk to the challenger, listen to what people were saying and get a sense of what was happening on the ground in this campaign.”
There is no reason why the Times should not carry two pieces that offer different or contradictory interpretations of the same event. It may well be that the story on page One and the column in the Business section are right, that therefore politics is both national and local, and that read together, readers see the trees and the forest. What’s silly and shallow, however, is the dragging in of the old axioms about “all politics.” Maybe “all politics” have always been both, but the old axioms, clichés by now, make it easier to explain things than hard, complex and often clashing analyses. Leave the clichés to the talking heads, whose expertise they shape and head-nodding mindlessness they induce.
The best comment about this problem was made by Sidney Morgenbesser, a beloved Columbia University philosopher, when asked if he agreed with Chairman Mao’s comment that a statement can be true and false at the same time. Replied Morgenbesser: “Well, I do and I don’t.”