The phrase “all politics is local” was coined by former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. At the time, O’Neill was speaking in the context of representatives carefully considering
their constituents through their decision-making process. It is clear that not all politics is local, the large assumption made by use of the word all is a signal to the statement’s misleading character. However, can we say that most politics are local? I believe that we can. Whether a political system is a democracy, autocracy, monarchy, or any other ‘archy’, they all share one thing in common, people. People are the building blocks of every political system and I believe that most people wish to improve their position. Therefore, no matter what materializes further up the political level of analysis, most politics begin with local issues.
It is easy to make this assumption within a democracy. After all, the particular system of democracy in place within the United States depends on local politics. Each citizen has the right to vote for representation based on the issues that matter to them. Much of the
world does not have such a responsive system of voting in place and many people can not rely on their vote to speak for them. This pushes many people to a different method of politics, activism, although for the same reasons. This is evident in the self-immolation of a Tunisian man fed up with a corrupted local bureaucracy that prevented him from earning a fair living. In Egypt, a “Revolution of the Thirsty” stood up to abhorrent policies from local water authorities in Cairo and helped spark protests that brought down a dictator.
In place of activism, locally oriented politics can often attract the eye of regional or national leaders who wish to avert disaster or affect future issues. In 2009, Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus bill of which $30 billion went to Pennsylvania localities. If the stimulus was split between 50 states, one would expect Pennsylvania to rake in 2%
of $787 billion or roughly $16 billion. How did the state walk away with nearly twice that amount? Of the many answers out there, Pennsylvania’s status as a national election ‘swing’ state should be mentioned. Similarly, in August, Saudi Arabia announced that a new city being built in the eastern province of al-Ahsa would include billions in investments to accommodate 600,000 new jobs. Al-Ahsa is home to the kingdom’s, and the world’s, largest oil fields and also the kingdom’s largest Shiite population. It is easy to see why the predominantly Sunni kingdom would want to invest money in this locality to foster stability.
So, are all politics local? No, but it is clear that most politics are rooted in local issues.