Why Republicans Need the Cities

Chicago pro immigration rally.jpg

Republicans took an all around shellacking in the 2012 elections. Part of the reason is that Democrats dominated the cities. President Obama won 69% of the big city vote, according to a New York Times exit poll analysis. Some of this is perhaps on account of the racial makeup of the cities, as blacks overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Yet it’s clear that, even among the upscale white urbanist crowd, Republican policies and candidates are finding few takers.

This bodes ill for the Republicans, but also for the future of cities. Most places suffer when under single-party rule, whether liberal or conservative. This has plagued big cities. Chicago, for example, doesn’t have a single Republican member of its city council. For a long time Republicans dominated large tracts of the suburbs.

These geographically discrete monopolies have resulted in a thoroughly corrupt bi-partisan system that Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has dubbed “The Combine.” Some competition remained at the state level, but it should come as no surprise that as the state as a whole as gone solidly blue, state and city finances have cratered, leaving Illinois as a national basket case.

Cities can benefit from Republican ideas on a variety of fronts. As Harvard Economist Ed Glaeser points out in City Journal, Republicans have been leaders in ideas around urban crime reduction, education reform, and privatization and rationalization of city services.

Unfortunately, Republicans have largely abandoned the urban playing field, preferring to condemn the cities as cesspools of Democratic corruption, high taxes, and decay. The Republican party today is largely driven by exurban and rural leaders, as well as populist movements like the Tea Party, with values that are not widely shared by urban dwellers. This has not only cost the party votes, but, critically, it has left it on the outside looking in on many debates, as culture is shaped in large urban centers where Republicans have little voice.

It’s well past time for Republicans to take cities seriously again. This starts with valuing urban environments, and respecting (or at least taking time to understand) the values of the people who live there. For example, urban dwellers expect and indeed require a higher level of public services than many suburban residents. The suburbs might not need quality street lighting, for example, but cities do. The rural area I grew up in can rely on people passing by in pickup trucks with chain saws to clear away trees that fall on the road. Cities can’t. Thus, Tea Party-type policy prescriptions in which basically everything the government does is considered bad, and in which cutting taxes is the main political value, aren’t likely to sell. Urban dwellers actually want to know how you are going to deliver services more effectively. Similarly, just bashing transit as a waste of money, lashing out against location-appropriate density, opposing all environmental initiatives, and shrill anti-immigrant rhetoric only turn urban dwellers off.

If Republicans took urban concerns seriously, they would find that they have much to offer urban residents and voters. For example, Democrats pay lip service to transit, but much transit policy in America today (heavily shaped by Democrats) is more oriented towards protecting entrenched constituencies than it is towards actual effectiveness. A serious Republican-led effort to reform the federal process and reduce the insane construction price premium (effectively a transit surtax) for American transit versus overseas systems would be welcomed, as long as it was not a Trojan horse for undermining transit. Republicans have so abandoned transportation (other than highway spending), that ideas which Republicans invented, like congestion pricing, have been claimed by the left as their own.

As an example of what a more urban focused Republican/conservative could be, consider the Manhattan Institute, a free market think tank (full disclosure: I have been a writer for their City Journal magazine). Because they are based in New York City, demonizing transit and such is just not realistic. Hence they’ve focused on policy ideas that are actually relevant to the city. They’ve also not hesitated to praise Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation reforms, and even gave an award to Rhode Island Democratic state treasurer Gina Raimondo for her leadership in pension reform. If more conservatives were similarly focused on driving better urban outcomes in the inner city rather than demonizing it, or on scoring political points, Republicans might be back in the game.

Republicans have a huge opportunity in the enormous income and wealth gap in inner cities, which Democratic policies, focused on things like greening the city, have done little to address. Indeed, all too much urbanism amounts to a sort of trickle down economics of the left, in which a “favored quarter” of artists, high end businesses, and the intelligentsia are plied with favors and subsidies while precious little ever makes it to those at the bottom rungs of society. A key lever to end this is to cut away at the massive regulatory burden that stifles small scale entrepreneurs, particularly minorities and immigrants. Regulatory relief is right up the Republicans’ alley.

Republicans also need to take on cities, especially the biggest ones, in order to get more of a voice in the cultural debates. Culture and media emanate from big cities, particularly New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. Major academic centers also are idea generation factories.

Republicans became all but excluded from the cultural/media industry as the 60s generation took over. The party's response has been to create a parallel infrastructure of think tanks, talk radio shows, web sites, and even its own TV network, Fox News. This worked well in the era immediately following the end of the Fairness Doctrine, but as the so-called mainstream media reacted by shifting to the left, this has left the Republicans often talking mostly to themselves while the national culture gets shaped by Hollywood, etc. A good example is the web site Atlantic Cities, which fully embodies the values of the international urban elite left, with few identifiable conservative ideas.

The 2012 election shows the limits of this strategy. Just as evangelical Christians have decided that they must look to plant their flag in the inner cities – both to reach an increasingly secularized, ,upscale population, and to engage with culture where it is made – Republicans need to start showing up seriously in the cities again if they want to influence the culture. There are already some top-notch conservatives participating in and writing about serious culture (e.g., Terry Teachout). More ambitious, talented young conservatives should seek to enter culture and media industries apart from simply writing for conservative magazines. This battle won’t be easy by any means, but defeat is certain if you never fight.

One thing is for sure: if Republicans want to have any future in America, they can’t afford to cede any more constituencies as monolithic Democratic voting blocks. Urban America is one constituency the Republican Party can’t afford to ignore.

Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile.

Flickr photo by jvoves: Immigrants protest a Republican-sponsored proposal in Chicago.


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We All Have Ideologies
Exile, you cannot prescribe a set of prescriptions that does not buck one bit from the conclusions that Leftism, as a collective movement, has also arrived at, and be non-ideologic. Well, actually, it can in fact be that you accidentally and magically came to the same "reasonable" conclusions that Leftism also arrived at, but on your own. But that is highly unlikely given that every Liberal makes the same lament that you do, that those who differ with you are being ideological, and you, the one who takes liberal positions, are not ideological. My point with Strongtowns is that their literature section is all from the liberal urbanism camp.

Government Subsidizing Suburbia
Of course there is an investment on the part of government, to subsidize fuel, and infrastructure, but that is because it can secure far more revenue if a greater number of people have upward mobility, move solidly into the lower-middle or middle class, join higher tax brackets, and have a generation later, children who also enter the middle-class or higher depending on the economic environment and their training/education. Those investments aren't in vain, and it isn't a loss for Portland or San Francisco or Chicago to expand its suburbs outwards. Much of our suburbs have payed their initial costs back to the taxpayer, many times over, just like the construction of more roads and the expansion of our highway system that took place under Eisenhower and since then. There are government investments that do not generate economic activity, and are nothing but a black-hole to suck up tax dollars, such as high-speed rail in most parts of the country, and some of our suburban expansions have been at a loss too but for the most part, they have been a net good.

Look At The Larger Picture
There is a case of our failures with regards to both our urban approach, and our suburban sprawl. I won't turn a blind eye to the issues that both present, and I'm not a fan of the ways that developers and city hall zoning regs that segment and appropriate development in a way that the only way to bridge the relationships between a shopping district, a working district, and a neighborhood is via the automobile. I also find the lack of mixed-use development that provides the beautiful communal ecosystem that makes many urban settings attractive severely depressing, especially when it doesn't have to be this way. But I can't delude myself to denying all of the benefits of suburbia in both an American and a global context. It gave rise to our middle class, and brought 4 billion people out of poverty along the way.

We need BOTH the Urban & Suburban
What would San Francisco and San Jose be if it weren't for its suburbs, or any other large city that is fed by an even larger metropolitan area. Most people in the San Francisco area are employed outside of the city, and are fortunate that tourism and several of its core industries such as Finance, Eds&Meds, and Apparel Giants can make use of SF's excellent infrastructure and transit, but the fact of the matter remains that SF is not the engine of job creation in the region, is not the provider of affordable housing, and is not the enabler of a great quality of life for young families given the expenses & limited schooling options. There is a relationship between the urban core, and the suburban rings around it, and it isn't a zero-sum game where one is clearly losing because of the other's existence.

One thing to add

The only thing I would suggest different is your NRA remark. While the NRA is a scummy lobby group, they do provide a good service by keeping gun ownership on the front burner. Let's face it. If it weren't for legal gun ownership in this country, you and I would NOT be having this conversation.

Everything else you said about the GOP is true, 110%. But guns is one of the last rights we have left. We must fight anyone who even suggests they be taken away.

Oh right

Anyone who worships guns over people has a problem.

Is that a bit low?

I found this rather disgusting. It assumes the other's intentions. Very often, inferring bad intentions. I think you use it like a throwaway line, an assumed truism that's not even worth mentioning, but I want to deal with it. Because I've tried to reduce it logically and it is nothing more then a stupid, emotional statement. Or, I may be missing something, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

What do you mean by worshipping guns over people?

Is one who fawns over his collection of rifles and assault-weapon look-alikes worshiping guns over people?
Is simply owning guns, engaging in worshiping guns over people?
Is wanting guns to remain legal or preferring the populace at large was armed, worshiping guns over people?

The "over people" part is what's really throwing me of. It's also what makes your statement unrescuably stupid.

I believe, what he/she is

I believe, what he/she is attempting to say, is that now matter how high the body count gets, the NRA only offers "stupiditudes". Yes, I made that up. You can use it if you want.

Arming Teachers? What the hell? How about mandatory weapons training, as part of you teacher certification. Oh, how about, mandatory weapons training, for all high school students?

The NRA doesn't achieve anything positive. They "defend" part of something. That would be a negative statement. Have you read the full text of the second amendment?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The first half, scares the hell out of the NRA. "Well regulated", hhhmm. I wonder what that means? Perhaps a registry? Mandatory classes before licensure? Who knows. But why don't you ponder those two words. You'll understand why it frightens the NRA so.

What to consider:

Well I partially agree, the NRA is an impediment to achieving a full scale, honest study that can continually track the sale and movement of arms around the country. They are also a roadblock to studies on the harm that little oversight over the sale of firearms has had on homicide rates. I also don't agree with arming teachers either. It's not that I don't have as high a faith in teachers as the NRA does, its just that I know many people shouldn't have become a teacher in the first place, and allows a rare event to totally impact our lives for the worse, in a way that only increases the issues and liabilities that our struggling schools already have to deal with.

The Correct Framework
That said, most people, like you, Exile, who count the massive amount of lives taken by guns, are not honest. You are not honest because you have an agenda, and will self-willingly throw truth by the wayside to advance it. Handguns, not high-powered, semi-automatic, high-round weaponry, are responsible for most deaths. And the majority of deaths by handguns are suicides, not homicides. But those left of center are materialists, and blame the politics or the economics of the material for all the injustices in life. Forget that when you compare white homicide rates in the US to Europe, they are nearly identical, and that most gun violence are by hispanic or african americans.

It's An Issue Of Values
Regardless, whatever MarkRaymond's intent was, I could care less. It was a disgusting comment. We who are for gun ownership don't care about those who are killed by guns is the implication. It assumes that one who cares supports the banning of guns or limiting access to them. Might I offer that perhaps our attempt to make our culture more ethical by changing our values is a form of caring? If you were to dump 100,000,000 guns in sweden, you would not see swedes slaughtering each other. They will most likely melt it down to repurpose as Ikea furniture or use it to construct progressive scandinavian art installations. And the reason is simple… as it is in Japan, and many other places on earth. It's not about the availability of the material, or the climate of its economics/politics that leads to a high level of crime, but rather, the culture and values that underpin it. Dump those guns in Denmark, or Japan, and you can expect a similar result.

A Truly Bipartisan Approach?
I am fully for massive gun regulation laws, and wide-spread gun ownership. That might be a stupid position to you, and to the NRA types, but it's the only true non-partisan position one can have on the issue without one side heeding fully to the other's preference.

In no place

Did I state my opinion, regarding firearms control regulations. Again, you assume too much.
My issue, is not against widespread ownership. It's against irresponsible ownership. Where do the illegal weapons come from? In many cases, from legal weapon sales. Out of the five people in my immediate circle of friends that have firearms in their home, three of them had them stolen from their homes. Just like operating an automobile, there are responsibilities that come with that. The NRA advocates against ANY responsibilities being applied to firearms ownership. Registration? Nope, they're against that. Background checks? they're against that too. Safe storage requirements? Nope, not going to happen.

In the United States, for EVERY right that we have, is a RESPONSIBILITY that is tied to it.

Scummy is a curse

Join the NRA, vote. get them do to positive things. Change them into something besides part of the fear engine. How about doing some safety advocacy? Perhaps put together an alternative solution to the rampant supply of illegally used weapons. Nope, they're so busy protecting the right to bear firearms, no matter where it goes. The NRA is making everyone they associate look terrible. They're the "Todd Akin" of the 2nd amendment. They are an embarrassment, in every sense of the word

Simple Fact, Republican Policies Do Not Work For Cities

This article ignores the fact that the Republican policies of tax cuts, government spending cuts, and deregulation just do not make sense in an urban context.
Urbanites live close together, so the laissez-faire policies that rural and ex-urbanites support make no sense when people have to co-exist in millions at close quarters. Which is why cities have always flourished under strong governments which can provide necessary urban infrastructure and enforce the regulations that make city life possible.

So the Republican "small government" ideal is really a suburban concept (and even there is really pretty much a lie, because suburbs cannot function without massive government investment in roads, sewers, law enforcement, trash collection, etc.).

Plus the xenophobic fear and hysteria that the Republicans hype up about "illegal immigrants" falls flat among urbanites who live with ethnic diversity every day as normality.

So Republicans will keep losing urban voters unless they fundamentally change their policies. As long as they hold to the extremism of Norquist's "No Tax Increase, Ever, For Any Reason" pledge Republicans are doomed to failure among urban voters. No marketing or talking points will fix the fact that current Republican policies fail in an urban context.

What examples do you have?

What examples do you have?

If the GOP's policies of tax cuts, government spending cuts, and cutting primitive regulations are relevant anywhere, it would be Urban America. The Democrats have long held dominance over Detroit, LA, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans, DC, NY, Philli, Cleveland, Oakland, etc. and not much has changed for the better unless GOP policies were enacted or many other forces beyond politics reframed the zeitgeist, and character of the city. It is because of GOP policies that most immigrants from abroad, be it asia, europe, africa, or latin america, come here, and move directly into the suburbs. They no longer are forced into harsh inner-city ghettos, working long hours of menial labor that pay little, and very often, are never afforded mobility out of their circumstance for at least several generations. We sort of look at Chinatowns and Koreatowns with a bit of respect at what they have become, but they weren't always like that, and every new group that has come to America have had many demons to battle, from the inability to assimilate into the local culture, to poverty, and inter-ethnic violence. Not very much attention is given to these small immigrant groups, but the richness of the greater community is because of them, and much of this activity goes on beyond the urban core. In the Portland area, from Buddhist to Sheik temples, to Korean churches, to a fragmented but lively entrepreneurial group of immigrants who have founded all sorts of businesses to cater to their communities, much of this action happens beyond Portland, in its suburbs, such as Gresham, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, and Wilsonvile.

Where the Democrats have done well are places like Austin, Portland, Salt Lake, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Denver, but do note the very little amount of ethnic diversity and foreign born populations that exist there. They don't have the large flux of immigrants or blacks who have been stuck in a reoccurring, generational prison of poverty, which lead to immense and off-the-chart epidemic rates in gun violence, obesity, diabetes, out-of-wedlock, high-school drop-outs, and many of the other things that lock people out of upward mobility.

But places that have moved in a GOP-supported reform include the Massachusetts state legislator, and the city of San Jose. Many state and local municipalities, with a high-democrat voting populace, have elected Republican governors and Republican mayors. Conservatism is never credited when Democrats move to clamp down on out-of-control pensions that drain the states coffers, and limit the state and local government's ability to then provide services we expect. But... Conservatives are vilified when it is us who bring about those reforms. The implication seems to be that we will be vilified, irrespective of what we do, so we might as well stick to our guns. Or at least that is what is implied.

Providing urban infrastructure is different from giving out welfare with no incentives attached to it. Providing urban infrastructure would be nice for a change, instead of having revenue pocketed by public-employee pensions. What is your definition of "Infrastructure" anyways?

I don't even support a small government, and neither do most people in the suburbs. We prefer a medium sized, uber-efficient and narrowly-focused government, not the grotesquely huge one we have today. People do prefer a small government, emotionally speaking, but we have to understand it in the correct framework. When they say they oppose a large government, they usually mean that with regards to the federal, and at times, state government, and what they really tend to mean is that the current levels are too much, and perhaps we should cut it back to the Clinton, or even Reagan years. When it comes to local government, however, it can be as large as we're willing to pay for or tolerate. And certainly, preferably, large enough to provide well-serviced communities, roadways, trash & recycling services, urban renewal projects, services for the poor, mentally ill, etc.

There is nothing extreme about Norquist's request, either, when you put it into perspective. Read: http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_1_taxes.html --Do note, that because of the vilification of the GOP when we make reasonable requests, paired with no effort to slim entitlements and government, makes compromise exceedingly impossible. There is a case for conservatives supporting the raising of taxes if paired with cuts in entitlements, or just lowering taxes out right, but Democrats have no intention to make a meaningful compromise in either of those lanes.