Columns » Max Brantley

All politics is local

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The old cliche about focusing on local concerns in politics generally guides my weekly outlook.

The web is brimming with comments on the Middle East, global warming and presidential politics. But what do they know about the Pulaski County Quorum Court or the Little Rock City Board of Directors?

National politics are important locally, however, even if Arkansas's few electoral votes rarely are pivotal in presidential outcomes.

Still, we do have a former Arkansas first lady just about to become the first woman nominated by a major party for president.

If my trip to Arkansas Boys State last week is any indication, history won't count for much at the Arkansas ballot box. I asked for a show of support from the 600 delegates to Boys State last Tuesday among three still-standing major candidates: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The roar for Trump was overwhelming. There was a solid but much smaller claque for Sanders. A paltry and quiet three or four youths expressed a preference for Clinton. Several Sanders supporters told me later that they'd be in Clinton's corner should she be the nominee, if not enthusiastically.

Boys State delegates trend conservative, but so does the state generally, absent an outlier of a political figure like Dale Bumpers or Bill Clinton. A Hillary Clinton victory in Arkansas — or in most of Dixie — seems unlikely. Sanders might even do better in some places, were he to be on the ballot. It is a year for emotion, not detail work. Hillary Clinton does her homework. But she lacks ease as a candidate and is longer on policy than passion. She also remains a victim of sexism. Male candidates shout to be heard at noisy rallies and men think nothing of it. Hillary shouts and she's viewed as shrill.

Women have not achieved equality in the U.S. — even if they've advanced farther than blacks, Latinos and sexual minorities. The local newspaper did yet another one of those corporate surveys the other day that showed the tiny percentage of women in top jobs at major Arkansas businesses. It is the same throughout executive ranks and on corporate boards. I asked the delegates at Boys State to consider whether this was a sign of discrimination or a sign that white men were inherently superior. One young man responded — seriously — by quoting the Bible verse that says women should not be placed in authority over men. A woman preacher later schooled me on the relevant context of that verse should I encounter it again. I could only think to say at the time, "You better be glad my wife the judge isn't here."

All this is a roundabout way to say that Hillary Clinton had a good week last week. It was a propitious time, just before the California primary. She spoke for more than 30 minutes on foreign policy. But it was really a speech about Trump's abysmal record. She didn't shout. She didn't call him names. Time after time, she merely quoted Donald Trump. Clearly discombobulated, Trump tried to say later that Clinton had not told the truth. She provided cites for every quote.

Republican leadership is again nervous this week about the candidate their primary voters have chosen. He exhibited flaws beyond foreign policy. There was also his racist attack on a federal judge hearing the lawsuit over corrupt practices of Trump University (an attack Arkansas Republican politicians have been slow to repudiate). And there was his calling out at a California speech to a black man in the audience as "my African-American." It was too reminiscent of the scene in "Animal House," when frat boys encounter a familiar R&B band at a black roadhouse and one calls out, "Otis, my man!" The look on singer Otis Day's face doesn't reflect a shared feeling of kinship.

If only this was a movie and not Election 2016. Then it might be funny.

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