Friday, November 16, 2012

Urban America is Democratic America

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Check out Emily Badger's piece at The Atlantic on "the real reason cities lean Democratic." Basically, it's about the public good, a more more significant, and much more real, concept in densely populated cities and suburbs than in rural areas.

Referring to the map above, perhaps the best representation of America's geo-political landscape I've ever seen (layering Census data on top of 2012 election results to show what the country's political leanings look like on a county-by-county basis in terms of population density), Badger writes:

[Chris] Howard's map underscores that the massive red block of the Great Plains actually has little political weight at all (curiously, electoral influence appears to dry up along with the rainfall abruptly west of the 98th meridian that commonly defines the Great Plains). Electoral power instead is concentrated in those blue-black patches, one of which strings all the way from southern Connecticut to Washington, D.C.

These are the places where people live densely together, where they require policies and an ideology that Republicans lately have not offered.

Some of the anger from cities this election season rightly pointed out that Republican Party leaders go out of their way to mock them. They denigrate urban ideas and populations because this has repeatedly proven an effective way to gin up enthusiasm among their base...

In a good piece on the GOP's problem with geography earlier this week, The New Republic's Lydia DePillis interviewed Princeton Historian Kevin Kruse, who made this point succinctly: "There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good," he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially."

The real urban challenge for conservatives going forward will be to pull back from an ideology that leaves little room for the concept of "public good," and that treats all public spending as if it were equally wasteful. Cities do demand, by definition, a greater role for government than a small rural town on the prairie. But the return on investment can also be much higher (in jobs created through transportation spending, in the number of citizens touched by public expenditures, in patents per capita, in the sheer share of economic growth driven by our metropolises).

Conservatives, and Republicans generally, have a lot of challenges going forward. They need to appeal to urban America again, but they also need to break free of their overwhelming whiteness and embrace the country's rapidly changing demographics. And, of course, they also need to turn away from the radical right-wing ideology that has come to dominate their party and their movement.

I wouldn't count on them figuring out the importance of the public good anytime soon. 

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