Skip to comments.Density Is Destiny: On Politics and the Paperboy ( Why the Right is winning the Political Argument)
Posted on 12/22/2005 12:20:37 PM PST by SirLinksalot
Density Is Destiny: On Politics and the Paperboy
By Patrick Cox
Why are things the way they are, politically speaking? Why are the Republicans' most effective ads straightforward clips of Democrats contradicting themselves? Why are conservative pundits so frequently flanking their liberal counterparts? Why is the left-of-center blogosphere moving their party away from the Democrats historic base while the right-of-center is co-opting libertarians and moderates?
Realizing that this is a question of the same magnitude as Douglas Adams' "Life, the Universe and Everything?" I nevertheless propose that the answer is "population density" in general and "the cost of newspaper delivery" specifically.
It all starts with an indisputable fact. Higher density urban areas tend to the political left of rural, lower-density areas. It doesn't really matter, in terms of this analysis, why this is the case. I'm not arguing the superiority of the conservative message, only its greater effectiveness at this time in history -- most easily evidenced by control of all three U.S. branches of government. There are, however, hints in history and economics about the reasons that cities tilt left.
The Role of Cities
This recent interview with demography economist Robert Fogel holds important insight into the underpinnings of the red state/blue state split as well as intriguing suggestions that the causative factors behind that division are already disappearing. Briefly, it is this:
Historically, there has been a higher perceived and practical need for government in big cities. Sewer systems, for example, are a matter of life and death in cities where diseases spread rapidly through densely packed populations. In the country, outhouses worked fine for most people until septic tanks with indoor plumbing came along, and neither needed government involvement or assistance to install and use -- except in so far as they might require permission from local regulators, who were therefore resented.
Clean and healthful running water in cities likewise entailed major public works programs as well as taxation in some form. Water in the country was usually a matter of drilling a well and was therefore untaxed. Garbage disposal in cities, required to prevent all sort of unpleasantness including vermin infestation and disease, has almost always involved government. In the country, you could burn or bury.
Crime rates, despite Hollywood's slander of the American West, have also traditionally been a more serious problem in big cities. When you can see people coming from far away and tend to know all those around you, those already accustomed to handling weapons and hunting have a different take on crime prevention than those who live among high-density strangers.
Additionally, immigrants to the US have traditionally settled mostly in cities, usually in areas where others of similar origin can assist with the many challenges involved in the transition to a new country and culture. This process, within an already politicized urban culture, led many immigrants who never looked at government as anything but an exploiter and oppressor before fleeing to America, to embrace a more benign vision of democratic government when it could be used to protect minority group rights. In low population areas, the economic payback for political activism was lower and frequently negative, so rural dwellers were more likely to perceive government as an interference than a benefactor -- except with respect to large national issues like defense.
Still, lifespans and quality of life were better in the countryside than in the cities, and most rural Americans were aware of this to one degree or another. This reality provided a powerful and consistent confirmation of their own philosophies.
So, regardless of the accuracy of my speculation on root causes, it is objectively true that cities have bred a more leftwing political culture than the countryside. This leads to the next major link in the causative chain -- the media. Or, to be precise, the newspapers.
All the Views That Are Fit to Print
The economics of the newspaper business is far more favorable to cities than to the countryside. The cost of news content production in cities, where populations are easily accessible, is much lower than it is in the countryside -- especially before the era of cheap and reliable telephones. Moreover, the cost of product distribution was dramatically less expensive in urban areas where paper boys often travel only yards, as opposed to miles in rural areas, to deliver a single, incremental newspaper.
As a result, big city newspapers thrived and the biggest city's newspaper, the New York Times, thrived most. That the journalists and editors who worked in the big city news business reflected the local political culture is not surprising. The sentiment that city folk are just a little bit smarter than country folk, or some equivalent chauvinism related to locational and team psychology, is not a conspiracy and probably couldn't have been prevented any more than you could get the majority of Green Bay Packers fans to root for New York, or vice versa.
As other large city papers took news, inspiration, affirmation and expertise from New York, they also shared the New York political perspective. Even in small towns where politics were more to the right, ambitious journalists with dreams of "making it big" learned quickly which side of the ideological bread needed to be buttered if they wanted national careers.
When newer media began to emerge, due to technological change, these news businesses were naturally drawn to the economies of agglomeration and scale created by successful big city newspapers. Newer media drew, of course, on the older local news industry for personnel, inheriting their values and perspectives. National magazines and then radio and television networks were situated in the largest urban centers, primarily New York. The flagship of the MSM remains the Times.
For a very long time, the existence of this pro-urban perspective in the MSM acted as a considerable advantage to those who favored national government solutions -- liberals. The MSM understood their views and, either consciously or unconsciously, favored them.
Important editors and producers mixed socially and professionally with political leaders who shared their views and, at times, acted in strongly partisan ways -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
The Democratic party had, therefore, a strong ally and silent partner in the national media. Often, the close-knit community of liberal journalists and editors were better informed, better connected and more experienced than their political cohort. Certainly, they were more articulate and media savvy.
A partnership, maybe even symbiosis, developed over time between the Democratic Party and the MSM. By the Vietnam era, journalists were doing the heavy lifting for the Democratic Party, puzzling out politically profitable angles and prompting politicians with precisely loaded questions. Liberal politicians got their "talking points" daily from the headlines and lead stories of the MSM and the DNC could focus on fundraising.
For ideologically grounded conservatives and libertarians, it was infuriating; the undecided swing vote could be swayed and Democrats prospered. Already, however, things had begun to change.
Technology and the Paperboy
Telephones, when they finally came to rural America lowered the cost of rural news collection. The shift of advertising expenditures from radio to television created low cost distribution opportunities for red state radio commentators.
And then, of course, along came the Internet, which is taking, at an increasing rate, market and advertising revenues away from newspapers and their colleagues in radio and television. Today, the cost of production and delivery of online news has plummeted; witness Matt Drudge, TCS Daily and the blogosphere. The balance of power has shifted as anybody with a modem can now self-publish or seek out news and commentary according to individual tastes, needs and preferences. Paperboys hardly matter anymore.
In the short run, these changes have been of tremendous benefit to the formerly underserved political right -- the red state people. It is not, however, simply that they now have some outlets that are respectful of their views. The right has the enormous benefit of decades of frustration with the MSM neglect and mischaracterization of their perspectives. Conservatives and libertarians had been talking back to their televisions and growling at newspapers for most of their lives, and still haven't got over the exhilaration of finding news sources that publish the debates they were having privately.
Liberals, however, were spared the best conservative arguments by editors who didn't like or understand them. Nodding at Walter Cronkite's and Dan Rather's interpretation of events, the left was lulled into the complacency of consensus in a world where consensus did not truly exist. The few alternative voices, hidden on the pages of mostly liberal editorial pages, were easy to dismiss as irrelevant or extremist.
Today, you can see this lack of familiarity with the fine points of public debate clearly as Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi continue to act as if they were living inside the old ideological news monopoly. It is why Democrats thought they could specifically contradict themselves on Iraq policy and expect not to be called on it. In the old days, they wouldn't have been -- except in the slow to arrive albeit brilliant monthlies and bi-monthlies like National Review and Reason, typically read only by cadres. (Both publications now have a robust web presence to compliment the dead tree publications).
The Situation Is Changing Again
The Bush administration, however, has been masterful in its use of the new media. Schooled by years of exclusion and disdain, they have consistently played ideological "ropeadope" until their own constituency is begging for a response, and unchecked liberals have taken their arguments over the edge into parody.
This MSM embargo of non-liberal ideas has led, as well, to a more effective Internet presence for the right, and is seen clearly in the differences between the two most important of the partisans, Instapundit and the Daily Kos. I don't think it would be too controversial to say that Glenn Reynolds is more gracious toward his detractors as well as more interested in building consensus on controversial issues than are Kos and his readers.
Lest the right become too satisfied, however, its worth warning that the underlying roots of this situation have changed in ways that are not yet obvious. The left will learn to argue and, perhaps more importantly, cities are now as healthy as the heartland. The bases of the Red/Blue state split are diminishing as the cultures that created them become less and less differentiated -- largely because of the Internet.
Most importantly, the world wrought by the current Internet technology, enabled most spectacularly by Marc Andreessen when he and his Netscape democratized the Web, is on the verge of the next anarchic and unexpected seismic shift, which I'll get to in a later article.
Patrick Cox is an economist and editorial columnist in Central Florida where he lives on an island in a remnant of original everglades.
Well, the author misses one key point. We're right a lot more often than the left is. Which means they start at a disadvantage since they can no longer hide that fact.
I dunno, db. It's hard to be wrong when they never SAY anything!
Did you ever get Kerry's plan? I didn't think so! ROTFLMAO!
What argument is there when your whole argument is emotion, that is the lefts problem not that they have not learned to argue?????
Emotion against facts and common sense....facts and common sense win. That is why the lefts only recourse is to shout down their opponent so that they can not be heard.
"...they have consistently played ideological "ropeadope" until their own constituency is begging for a response, and unchecked liberals have taken their arguments over the edge into parody. " Sure hope this is the case. I have been begging since 1996.
I think the author is falling for one of the same problems as the far left has. He is attributing Bush's obliviousness to conspiracy. Bush and much of his administration are willfully ignorant of much of their base.
"The Bush administration, however, has been masterful in its use of the new media."
Oh. That must account for his great poll numbers. Right?
Take a more careful look at MSM circulation and network "news" viewer ratings, and I think you might note that their decline began not with the emergence of the internet or talk radio, but during the return "home" of Viet Nam vets in the mid-70's.
Shouldn't that be an excremental newspaper?
Not to be a nasty old pessimist and throw cold water on this article, but the left still dominates in "news" dissemination and propaganda. By far. It's just that conservatives have finally been able to make appreciable inroads in the last ten years or so. That's good, but we still have a hard uphill fight on our hands and a long way to go. When Tom Sowell is sought out by Big Media and is better known than Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore, then I'll know that the conservative message has equal weight to the liberal one.
"Emotion against facts and common sense....facts and common sense win."
Umm, ah, he's not from California is he?
ping for later
A major reason the older, larger cities are predominantly Democratic is that most of the competent, productive citizens have gotten the heck out of there!
I agree. Now if we can only keep the liberal in their little enclaves instead of allowing them to dirty their nests to the point where they are unlivable and then moving to OUR cities and take over with their high tax ideas we'll all do just fine.
They still inhabit that world, as a cursory listen to the unquestioned "truths" on NPR will reveal. And so the other half of the country is a mystery to them, to be explained away by the usual shibboleths - corporate conspiracy, Christian fundamentalism, military automatons, gun-toting racist rednecks.
I am inclined to agree with the author's thesis concerning the link between population density, necessary social support, and necessary social control. It's as old as Sumeria.
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