Politics & Policy

Local Elections with Lasting National Import

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
What’s at stake this November is the president’s vision for remaking America.

Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” That may have been true in Tip O’Neill’s day, but some elections are decisively on national issues — and the congressional elections this year are overwhelmingly national, just as the elections of 1860 were dominated by one national issue, namely slavery.

In 1860, some abolitionists split the anti-slavery vote by running their own candidate — who had no chance of winning — instead of supporting Abraham Lincoln, who was not pure enough for some abolitionists. Lincoln got just 40 percent of the vote, though that turned out to be enough to win in a crowded field.

But what a gamble with the fate of millions of human beings held as slaves! And for what? Symbolic political purity?

This year too there are third-party candidates complicating elections that can decide the fate of this nation for years to come. No candidate that irresponsible deserves any vote. With all the cross-currents of political controversies raging today, what is the overriding national issue that makes this year’s congressional elections so crucial?

That issue is whether, despite all the lawless edicts of President Obama, threatening one-man rule, we can still salvage enough of the Constitution to remain a free, democratic nation.

Barack Obama will be on his way out in two years, but if he can appoint enough federal judges who share his contempt for the Constitution’s limits on federal government power in general and presidential powers in particular, then the United States of America can continue on the path to becoming another banana republic, even after Obama has left the White House.

President Obama understands how high the stakes are, which is why he is out fundraising all across the country — seemingly all the time — even though he has no more elections to face himself. Obama came to power saying that he was going to fundamentally change the United States of America — and he intends to do it, even after he is gone, by giving lifetime appointments as federal judges to people who share his view that this country’s institutions and values are fundamentally wrong, and need to be scrapped and replaced by his far-left vision.

If only Obama’s critics and opponents understood this momentous issue as clearly as he does.

The issue is whether “we the people,” as designated by the Constitution, continue free to live our own lives as we see fit and to determine what laws and policies we want to live under.

President Obama’s vision is very different. In his vision, our betters in Washington shall simply order us to live as they want us to live — telling us what medical insurance we can have, what doctors we can go to, what political groups shall be favored by the Internal Revenue Service, with more of the same coming in the years ahead, long after Obama has left the White House.

Critics who deplore President Obama’s foreign policies in general – and his weak response to the Islamic State threat in particular – as showing incompetence and who see his incessant fundraising as just a weird distraction fail to understand how different his priorities are from theirs.

Barack Obama understands clearly that his ability to fundamentally remake what he has long seen as a deeply defective and corrupt America in the image of his far-left vision depends crucially on having control of the Senate that has the power to confirm his appointments of federal judges with lifetime tenure. His fundraising is key to maintaining the Democrats’ Senate majority.

Foreign policy is subordinated to Obama’s overriding ideological vision. The president will not risk losing this year’s congressional elections by taking military actions that will alienate his political base. Token military actions can minimize the political losses from other voters. 

That people will die while he stalls on military action is a price he is willing to pay. His ordering thousands of American troops into Ebola-infested Liberia shows the same ideologically driven callousness.

The big question is whether those who wish to preserve a free America see the issue and the stakes as clearly as Barack Obama does — and see that this is the overriding national issue of our time, with our votes for senators not to be confused by local issues.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His website is www.tsowell.com. © 2014 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Thomas Sowell — Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author, whose books include Basic Economics. He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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