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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Talk of the Town; Note and Comments

  • Author(s): The New Yorker Magazine
  • et al.

When Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local," he was talking about the way political issues are shaped by local interests. Defense policy, for example, logically calls for an overview of national-security needs, yet it is often dictated by employment levels in factories that happen

to depend on defense contracts and are in the district of an influential congressman. In such cases, local interest debases the issue with a shortsighted and self-serving perspective. But there's another kind of local politics, and it works in a way that's almost completely opposite. For instance, the City Council of Irvine, California, recently passed legislation restricting the use of chlorofluorocarbons within the city limits. This legislation will cause hardships for local businesses and raise the cost of some consumer goods for local people, and these sacrifices will not be rewarded by any special environmental benefits to the citizens of Irvine. Everyone in the world, and for generations to come, will benefit, but only by an infinitesimal amount, and the citizens of Irvine no more than anyone else. From a realist's point of view, Irvine's action seems almost unnatural; it's idealistic, even quixotic, for little Irvine to take responsibility for the sky. And yet on an emotional level the action seems exactly right.

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