All Politics and Unemployment Are Local

February 1, 2010

The late Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, Jr., made grammarians grimace and pundits ponder when he shared the wisdom of his father who noted that "all politics is local." The elder O'Neill's comment followed his son's only election defeat, the result of the campaign's failure to heed what was happening in the candidate's own backyard.

As of this month, I am an involuntary member of the army of the unemployed, sharing the anxieties of millions of my fellow citizens without paychecks because the economy no longer supports the functions we performed for our former employers. We are an army in need of a leader, one who understands our plight and who heeds what is happening in his own backyard.

This isn't the first time I've looked for work during difficult economic times. Back in the last century, during the late 80s, I received my MBA in finance just as the stock market took a tumble to start the one-term presidency of Bush 41. I returned to college in hopes of trading in a career in broadcast journalism for a life in the corporate world. Instead, I ended up in print journalism, reporting on crimes and corruption in the public sector.

An opportunity arose at the end of the century that allowed me to combine decades of experience in journalism, public relations, and marketing to support the various aspects of a public university system. It was a great job, one that included writing speeches, legislative testimonies, op-ed pieces, and magazine articles to summarize issues and policies for the university family, business and community leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders.

I then coordinated communications for the university's largest college, and developed the university's first monthly, interactive electronic newsletter. This last assignment gave me a communication presence (in radio, television, print, cable, satellite, or online) in every decade since the 1950s. OK, full disclosure dictates I mention that I started out doing radio commercials as a pre-schooler. True story.

Anyway, at the end of the two-term Bush 43 administration the economy collapsed, university endowments shrank, and non-academic functions paid the price.

There is some solace knowing the university eliminated my position through the dreaded Reduction In Force and did not fire me because of poor job performance, crimes, or violations of university policies. In fact, the people who chose the easy way to save money and keep their jobs allowed me to leave mine with a certain level of dignity one would expect to accompany a decade of service at the highest levels of the organization, i.e., I got two days to clean out my office instead of being escorted immediately to my car, and I stayed on the payroll with full benefits through the holidays and into the first of the year.

Job hunting is a learning experience. You learn discrimination is alive and well and thriving. Do not be fooled by the terms "affirmative action" and "equal employment opportunity." Today's employers have their pick of the lot. I had one person tell me her business received scores of applications for a receptionist's job. One way to cull the list was to pick the first name of a current employee then eliminate all applicants with that name.

I've also learned that trite excuses haven't changed over the decades. People still think they're softening the blow by saying you're over-qualified, not realizing what they're really saying is they hired a less-qualified person.

So, how does my unemployment relate to "all politics is local?" Conservative estimates put the nation's unemployment rate at ten percent. The rate in my household, however, is 100 percent, because my wife is on disability.

This means that when President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, I'll be waiting to hear what his administration plans to do about the economy and jobs. I'm not interested in healthcare reform, because I'm happy with my coverage. I'm mildly interested in housing and mortgages, because I don't like to see people who could afford their homes when they had jobs lose their homes because they don't have jobs.

And I don't want to hear how the government will punish evil bankers for making money for their stockholders. In other words, doing the jobs they're paid to do.

In my opinion, Washington should concentrate on the economy and jobs because all politics is local and the President needs to heed what's happening in my own backyard.

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Copyright ©2010 John David Powell

John David Powell writes his Lone Star Award-winning columns from Shadey Hill Ranch in Texas. His email address is