American Government (8th edition) by Gitelson, Dudley and Dubnick
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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tip's myth and waiting for the fat lady....

As the co-author of an American government textbook, election nights are always a bit more interesting -- especially in years when we have a new edition due out in a few weeks. In fact, the entire publication process is geared to the election -- everything ready to go except for some pages in election-sensitive chapters, and the day after an election is when the gaps are filled....

Since my portions of the text are not impacted by the election results in the short term (I cover subjects like constitution, federalism, bureaucracy, public policy), I have little to do today except mull over how the election outcome might impact on the next edition (which is likely to be in two years....) Our book is unique in its focus on what we term the "myths and realities" of US government and politics, and each chapter is built around one or two such myths. For example, in the constitution chapter we focus on the "myth of the living constitution". We do not try to debunk all the myths, but rather stress the role myths play in US government and politics and some of the "reality" and countering myths at work. Its a neat theme that seems to have grown stronger with each of the seven previous editions....

As my colleagues Alan Gitelson and Bob Dudley work on putting the the finishing touches on the 8th edition, I am already thinking about a new myth that we might integrate into edition 9 -- the myth of "all politics is local". The famous Tip O'Neill observation is the perfect myth for our textbook -- it is true at all times, except when it isn't. This year the "nationalization" (or Iraq-ization) of the mid-term elections seems an appropriate description of what happened, although the situation was much more complicated than that. Two "realities" need to be stressed -- first, that only (so far) 27 of the 435 House seats changed hands (in terms of party) and that several of those changes can be attributed to local rather than national concerns. (For interesting piece on incumbency advantage, see here.)

Nevertheless, at the macro-political level, there certainly was a national feel to the results. It is certainly hard to explain the loss of Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island or the blue-ing of New Hampshire unless you factor in the anti-war sentiment of voters this year. In those cases, relatively popular and effective representatives were defeated who would otherwise and at other times be considered incumbent shoe-ins. Unlike 1994, which seemed to be a "throw the bums out" election untethered to any specific issue, this was a "send them a message" election that was clearly driven by the Iraq War gorilla sitting at the dinner table....

And with Montana and Virgina still undecided as yet, the fat lady has not yet taken the stage....


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