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June 11, 2010

“Tip” O’Neill Proven Right

Roy Meachum

Attempting to assert themselves as powerful, the main media keep tripping up. The cacophony from New York and Washington newsrooms has a weird cast.


The TV and cable, joined by The New York Times and The Washington Post, want us to believe the coming off-year elections will be decided by anti-incumbency sentiment among the voters, especially the anti-Obama mood. I disagreed very strongly the Democrats lost the “Kennedy seat” in the U.S. Senate held for so many years by brothers Jack and Ted. Republican Scott Brown’s most effective approach was by advertising constantly it was “the people’s seat.”


Another Massachusetts man, the late Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill repeatedly observed “All politics is local.” I subscribe strongly to Tip’s philosophy about elections. Massachusetts’s Attorney General Martha Coakley belonged to the “right” party to continue the Kennedy legacy. But she was stupidly wrong by taking a Caribbean cruise when voting loomed; in other supercilious ways she demonstrated supreme confidence. She tramped over a basic rule of the game: Never let the voters figure out they are taken for granted.


The press fed her superwoman complex by dunning constantly that it was the “Kennedy seat.” Any doubts Ms. Coakley and her advisers entertained were destroyed by the media. Forced to face last minute polls, she brought Vickie Kennedy, Ted’s widow, into the campaign. Too late and too little. The dollars not spent were offered back to donors.


That fixed in the national mentality the elections would turn out anti-Obama.


But the party convention turned out Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, supposedly not conservative enough for conservative Utah. To perform his elected job he spent much time in Washington. But the three-times senator would have been 81 when his term ran out. The media ignored his age.


Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter provoked a lot of voters in both parties by his crass swapping of labels. When he returned to the U.S. Senate to serve his Lame Duck days, the media reported he was going to take out his loss on the White House. Reportedly he would still caucus with his “new party” but planned to vote against President Barack Obama’s must-win projects, like Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.


The anti-incumbency thesis failed to topple Sen. Blanche Lincoln. In a primary this week she beat out Arkansas’ Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and further weakened the presumption that portrayed the Old South as a man’s man bastion.


Tuesday results made it into a day that women politically thrived. In California, ladies won both GOP slates to become governor and U.S. senator. Despite allegations by men in opposition camps, Nikki Haley came in first in the South Carolina GOP primary but still must face a run-off. The men alleged Ms. Haley was “known” to them, in a Biblical sense. Because of her birth to Indian parents, a S.C. Republican state senator called her a “rag head.” Her popularity increased after each attack and allegation.


South Carolina is a state where Tea Partiers can influence elections. Ms. Haley had their public support; she was endorsed by the former governor who departed in a cloud of scandal. Sarah Palin stopped off and made speeches on her behalf.


As in the past a national passion against Congress turns out to be reserved for politicians not known, while voters are comfortable with the incumbents they know. That only proves “Tip” O’Neill’s observation:


“All politics is local.”


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