Thursday, November 15, 2012

Urban Mythology and the GOP



Obama won the big cities.

So, big city liberals are killing America.

That's the line of logic many conservatives are extrapolating from the numbers from last week's presidential election.  And yes, it's easy to see all of the blue dots, representing Democratic power districts, concentrated around the nation's largest cities, particularly up in the Northeast, among the Great Lakes, and along the West Coast.

There's also a significant swath of blue dots that swing from the Washington, DC area down through the deep south's core.  But the population density in this largely poor, largely black region is so sparse, compared with America's major urban centers, that it's easy to forget that it's not just urban people who vote Democratic.

But politics always comes down to numbers.

Even ruby-red Texas, with its overwhelming backing of Mitt Romney this year, saw every county with a million-population-plus city go for Obama (Fort Worth, in Tarrant County, has just less than 800,000 people).

Much of the Republican Party's strength comes from suburban communities and smaller towns in "fly-over country," that great stretch of America between our two coasts.  Geographically speaking, our country appears to hold far more conservatives than liberals.  Which makes it seem unfair that liberals in such small pockets of the country can sabotage the conservative agenda.  This is one reason why the current wave of secession petitions has such popularity.  At least, in fly-over country.

And among non-urban conservatives.

You Can't Just Ignore Stuff You Don't Like

It's one thing for voters and politicians from low-population states to complain about how voters in big cities vote.  Conservative politicians like to swagger with a bravado bolstered more by the myopic confidence of their sound-bite-led supporters than mathematically genuine proof that right-wing politics is somehow still the country's most popular philosophy.

It's another thing for conservatives cloistered across less urban regions of Middle America to complain that liberal policy is all urban Americans can appreciate.  But ignoring the basic math involved with greater population concentrations in urban America doesn't really solve anything, does it?

Just look at the numbers.  Big cities are "big" for a real reason.  And homogeneous states like Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah, where Republicans virtually skate through elections, need to realize that the conservative politics they cherish isn't a result of their lack of urbanization.  If conservatism was based on how many people live in a square mile, how do you explain the liberalism rampant throughout quaint New England?  And the old Confederacy?

Of course, sweeping generalizations have been made about why cities predictably vote Democratic.  These include the high proportion of minorities which live in most American cities nowadays, and what conservatives describe as a dependence by minorities on the government handouts that Democrats publicly endorse, like food stamps, housing vouchers, mass transit, and public healthcare clinics.  Generational, institutionalized policy has created a persistent underclass of welfare recipients in our large cities, along with a political system designed to cater to this captive class.

We'll leave the argument about how government entitlements support conservative suburbs for another day.

Conservatives Need to Know Their Opportunities

Step away from that vignette of Democrats-and-dependence in urbanized America, however accurate parts of it may be, and if Republicans want to see hope for their party, slivers of it can indeed be found in our big, bad, overpopulated cities.

First, consider all of the immigrants - legal immigrants - who flood America's urban centers.  Very few of them come with aspirations of languishing for the rest of their lives in a public housing project.  Most of them come ready to work, and hungry for opportunity.  And isn't opportunity one of the Republican Party's bywords?  If conservatives would look past the color of peoples' skin and the unfamiliar accents they have, the GOP might find that it has far more in common with our newest urban neighbors than it thinks.  Brooklyn's incessant wave of Russian immigrants, for example, holds considerable promise for Republicans in parts of the borough Democrats used to think were impregnable.

Second, consider all of the socially conservative blacks, Hispanics, and Asians who populate untold urban neighborhoods.  Yes, many of them admire the Democratic Party because it makes the biggest show of pretending to feel their pain.  Meanwhile, most of the party's liberal platform consists of policies these minority voters would love to vote against, if they felt Republicans weren't so disdainful of them.  Gay marriage, abortion, legalized marijuana, and rampant government corruption (particularly obvious and onerous in big cities) are all things conservatives could easily sell to urban minorities.  Especially since those minorities actually constitute the majority in most of our cities, which means the potential rewards could be worth the concerted effort, don't you think?

Third, consider the lifestyle forced upon many urbanites.  High housing costs and high population densities make big-ticket infrastructure items like mass transit practically essential, so people of limited means can afford to raise their families in the best possible neighborhood, and still get to work.  Crime is a big problem in urban areas, since, contrary to the Republican myth, most people are not common criminals, and are tired of being targeted by the few who are.  There's nothing endemically liberal in these urban scenarios, but liberals have been able to monopolize the political narrative in making urban life function.

Some liberal environmentalists try to insist that high-density urban landscapes are actually more ecologically-prudent than sprawling suburbs, but the noise pollution, the lack of privacy, and the general mayhem and congestion found in most cities takes a far more harrowing emotional toll on their residents than those environmentalists can calculate.  The reason cities exist in the United States isn't because they're environmentally friendly, it's because they're amazing economic engines.  I wondered in some essays recently about the New York City region's continued viability as a corporate center after Hurricane Sandy, but even if Fortune 500 companies decide to leave it for good, plenty of smaller companies won't go anywhere.  There's simply too much money to be made when upwards of 20 million people live down the street.

Street Smarts

For conservatives, a lot of what the Republican Party stands for boils down to money.  And you can still make money in America's cities.  If altruism, and neighborliness, and care for our fellow man won't move Republicans to embrace urban America, shouldn't money at least work?

Forget all of the destructive, misleading, reckless, and uncaring talk about the 47 Percenters, wealth redistribution, and entitlement sloths, and get to know the people in urban America who, for all we know, could be waiting for the political rhetoric being spouted by conservatives to cease so they won't be inhibited by voting for GOP candidates.

Some Republicans are fearful that the things their party cherishes will need to be marginalized for the party to survive.  Other Republicans are growing ever more defiant that right-wing advocacy is the only way to save the party.  Instead, why not try investing in the potential urban America may hold for conservatives?

Conservatives usually enjoy their visits to New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco as much as anyone.  But they also usually say they're glad to get back home.  Well, if you don't want your home to suffer any of the ill effects you perceive urban liberal voters are imposing on you, why wait for those urban liberals to change their tune?

Most big city residents say they love diversity.  Why not show them how conservatism can fit into that mix?
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