A pervasive American trend of the past couple of decades is the overestimation of national affairs and underestimation of local and state affairs.
We understand how this happened. The internet gave everyone the cheap and unlimited ability to communicate, and fooled many into thinking they could have a big voice in national politics. The media were bamboozled along with them, imagining riches for pandering to this illusion, but the payoff for abandoning journalistic responsibility only came for national media outlets.
Engagement is good, particularly in a democracy and especially to the extent it has an effect. For almost everyone, a voice in local and state affairs has remained far stronger and more influential on their quality of life than their immeasurably small influence on national affairs.
Thinking and talking about things can strengthen a person and their community, almost regardless of the appropriateness of the subject. But when officials chosen by the public to do an important job insist on proclaiming their views on issues irrelevant to that job, they are neglecting their work for the sake of dubious political grandstanding.
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As a recent case shows, this invites a grandstanding response from the political opposition, which wastes more attention, time and effort.
The trouble began when supporters of the right to bear arms decided to lure local government officials into joining their already robust, well-funded and effective lobbying. They convinced them to pass generic resolutions declaring the opposition of their municipality or county to any state or federal legislation that the officials believe violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The resolutions are entirely symbolic, of course, and can’t have any actual influence on gun laws or enforcement.
Notice the arrogant assertion of officials that their district’s position would be based on what these local officials believe is constitutional, not what the U.S. Supreme Court decides, in taking stands on bills in distant and far higher legislative bodies.
At least 70 municipalities — including 15 in Atlantic County and nine in Ocean County — have engaged in this foolishness.
Democrats unsurprisingly have responded with statements of support for gun controls.
The Somers Point Democratic Club mounted the high horse offered by local Republicans and said, “It is a meaningless and redundant statement that accomplishes nothing. Do they think … this resolution will be a good thing for our town?” Then they overreached, as partisans do, and said, “The Republicans’ handling of this resolution is cowardly.”
Democratic officials are just as fond of pointless resolutions unrelated to the work they’re supposed to be doing. Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick, for example, has proposed calling for the immediate removal of President Trump after the Jan. 6 riot, for state lawsuits against natural gas and oil companies “for damages caused by climate change,” and for support for the people of Ukraine (of course).
Local officials are entitled to their views on issues like everyone else, but using their office as a platform to advocate for their private opinions is a misuse of the power given them — even if they occasionally do it from a well-considered concern for society and not just the usual posturing for political support. On matters not related to their positions, they should write letters to the editor to make their voices heard.
We admire elected leaders at all levels who understand their important responsibilities and stay focused on doing the best job they can. Voters who care about how government actually influences their lives should evaluate their performance in that local or state job and resist being swayed by political grandstanding.