The curious divide

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse got all kinds of attention for his "Buffett Rule" push, calling on the wealthy to "pay their fair share." Meanwhile, on Smith Hill, the General Assembly seems all but certain to kill legislation that would raise taxes on the rich.

Indeed, the body just got through lowering them last session.

It's as good an illustration as any of the striking gulf between state- and federal-level politics in Rhode Island - the former rather conservative, the latter pretty liberal.

Some of it, no doubt, can be explained by the difference in arena: national politics, so deeply partisan, favors gestures like the "Buffett Rule"; on the state level, there's no real GOP opposition to thunder against.

And local pols, unlike their federal counterparts, have to worry about stuff like the state's business climate (not that cutting taxes on the rich does as much as they might imagine).

But these factors don't explain the strange divide entirely; the voters of Woonsocket and Pawtucket and Tiverton seem to want something fundamentally different from their local and national representatives. 

Taxes, gay marriage, you name it - on virtually any major issue, the bulk of the Congressional delegation would fall somewhere outside the legislative mainstream if it was toiling on Smith Hill.

In some way, though, the split vote - elect a moderate local rep and a liberal federal one - seems to perfectly capture Rhode Island's deep unease with its own politics: it is a liberal state uncomfortable with its liberalism.

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