All Politics Is Local

I live in New York’s 20th congressional district, upon which the eyes of the nation are riveted at the moment as Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco battle it out to fill Kirsten Gillibrand’s empty seat. Many are trying to make this a referendum on the Obama administration. But the truth is, nothing Obama has done since taking office could have swayed any vote in my county one way or the other. Half the county is local rednecks descended from families who’ve lived here forever, and they despise the other half: New York cityfolk who moved up here from Manhattan, along with academics like me at the local colleges. The cops are all Republican. Get stopped for speeding, and if you can prove your area code isn’t 212, you might get let off. Recently at a political rally, a woman Democrat started arguing with a Republican man, and the Republican punched her in the nose: the police, of course, arrested the woman for disturbing the peace, and the Republican judge ruled against her. Bard students peacefully protested after the 2004 election, and police wrestled them to the ground, after which the local Republican judge threw the book at them. At a city meeting at my town, a distinguished older gay citizen (formerly from the city, of course) spoke and got called “faggot” by one of the police, who hustled the gay man off to jail for the crime of speaking his mind – and the worse crime of not having originally been from around here.

So the district is divided just about exactly in half between long-time locals and displaced New Yorkers and academics. Who everyone voted for could have been predicted months ago, or years. (Democrat Gillibrand, whom I like, did well here by courting the NRA) The only insight one could possibly wring from this election is what the current proportion of rednecks and city folk is – a matter of some interest to locals, perhaps, but one that sheds no light whatever on the public reaction to Obama. 
A neighbor put up a huge hand-painted sign up on his property in November that said, “NOBAMA.” I thought of countering with one that read, “TediscNO.”


  1. says

    This is what I dislike about political parties. If anyone goes into politics with a desire to actually serve the general populace and try to make life better for everybody, they are soon swallowed up by junior-high-school attitudes about one’s “team.” Politics loses anything having to do with empowerment or justice and becomes entirely about my-team-is-the-best, you-should-be-on-my-team, we’re-right-no-matter-what. Yet, I’m not sure that having no parties or many parties are viable solutions.

  2. Paul H. Muller says

    Well at least you live in a competitive congressional district. I have voted against the incumbant Republican congressman here for 15 years, but they have managed gerrymander the district lines so that he never loses.
    Too many in congress have safe seats and so they don’t answer to the people – just their campaign contributors. That is the problem.
    I wish I had to worry that I would get punched in the nose by a Republican – it would mean there was a real chance for a democrat to win.

  3. says

    Paul, you may be happy to know there’s hope – this district has only been competitive since 2006. The district is gerrymandered so that Troy and Albany are not in the district, so it’s mostly rural. I canvassed on Saturday, and was surprised that there were so many democrats in the parts of my county (which went for McCain in November and for the republican yesterday) that are in the district . Most of them, though, were either disgusted former republicans or recent arrivals. I was also made acutely aware of how negative ads stick, even if patently untrue. There needs to be some kind of truth in advertising laws for political ads.

  4. says

    – May I venture to say that this post touches strongly on a substantial component of our zeitgeist?
    – May I also venture to say that what many people describe as political affiliation (not you in particular, Mr. Gann) has more to do with the (mis)perception of values between different groups, and the biological tendancy for tribalism among humans.
    – Redneck can be a derogatory term. If it was used in the fraternal, ‘endearing’ sense (e.g. “Dern proud to be a redneck”, etc), I must have missed it in the above post. Taken as such, the word can be taken as scornful and spiteful, and plays straight into the hand of the cliche of academic elitism.
    – When applied as a blanket term, in contrast to the gentler term, “city folk,” it belies any notion of neutrality.
    I’m being a little picky here, not to tear apart Mr. Gann’s post (written as an aside, really), but rather, to draw attention to the assumption(s) represented. Let’s not get lost in semantics, but I think this very simply reflects a situation in a town where pre-existing, deeply embedded cultural assumptions (on both sides) obscure any possibility of dealing with issues in a meaningful way.
    ***Personally speaking, I’m not exempt of making these kind of assumptions by any means.*** I’m drawing attention to this because I think this is at the crux of the issues surrounding the culture of classical music in America. Yes, Really.
    Most of my college educated friends toss off words like redneck or hick without thinking twice about it. Are we really still wondering why these hicks won’t stop by our classical music concerts? I mean, aren’t we on the high road, as open-minded-citizens, duly confirmed by college degrees? Maybe it’s for the best.
    It’s a classical thing, y’all wouldn’t understand.
    KG replies: Of course I see your point, but thought I was speaking to a safe audience. Lot o’ rednecks in my family: one of my cousins was killed in a mutual road-rage shootout on a Dallas highway. I don’t use the term to denote some mysterious “other.” Lots of the local old-timers here are lovely people; some of them are lovely but misinformed by the mainstream media. But we do live our generally placid lives with a peripheral awareness that there is a culture here that wishes “our kind” would go back where we came from – and they’re the ones with the guns and billy clubs.

  5. says

    I should have prefaced with: I like reading your blog very much and don’t think you’re an instigator of cultural misunderstandings. :)
    I suppose it’s just a convenient moment to reflect on some of the differences between social groups as a microcosm of the divide existing between the music we love and the culture we live in.
    KG replies: No, you’re right to call me on it. It’s a difficult question we all face.