Skip to comments.The GOP and the City
Posted on 01/28/2013 4:31:03 PM PST by neverdem
Conservative policies have greatly benefited urbanites. Why wont Republicans seek their votes?
After the presidential election in November, New York Times exit polls found that Republican candidate Mitt Romney had received only 29 percent of the big-city vote to President Obamas 69 percent. That gap prompted Paul Ryan, Romneys running mate, to conclude that it was the turnout especially in urban areas that gave President Obama the big margin to win this race. Ryan was right: the GOP has an urban problem. And its partly a self-created one. The party, nationally and even locally, has focused on winning suburban and rural votes and has stopped reaching out to city dwellers.
The cities-as-foreign-territory approach is bad politics for the Republicans: after all, successful cities like New York and Houston surge with ambitious strivers and entrepreneurs, who should instinctively sympathize with the GOPs faith in private industry. The Republican move away from the cities is also bad for the cities themselves, which have hugely benefited—and could benefit a lot more—from right-of-center ideas.
The GOP wasnt always so dismissive of cities. Almost at the front of its 1968 platform was a section called Crisis of the Cities, which declared that for today and tomorrow, there must be—and we pledge—a vigorous effort, nation-wide, to transform the blighted areas of cities. The platform advocated greater involvement of vast private enterprise resources in the improvement of urban life, induced by tax and other incentives, as well as new technological and administrative approaches through flexible federal programs enabling and encouraging communities to solve their own problems. After Richard Nixon won the election that year, he sought to deliver on those promises. Aided by his HUD secretary, George Romney (Mitts father), he moved federal policy away from subsidizing disastrous public-housing projects and toward a system of housing vouchers. Nixon also championed block grants, which gave cities flexibility in distributing federal aid, allowing them to target their greatest needs.
The 2012 party platform, by contrast, had no city-oriented policies whatsoever and used the word urban just twice—once to decry the current administrations allegedly replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. (The Obama administrations urban policy has actually been rather timid. It has done little to reduce one of the federal governments largest real social-engineering efforts, one that favors suburbs over cities: promoting homeownership with the mortgage-interest tax deduction and with subsidized mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That policy amounts to bribing people to leave rented urban apartments and buy suburban houses.)
Cities have suffered from the GOPs departure. For one thing, any group or place benefits from being the object of political competition: swing groups in swing states, such as Cubans in Miami and autoworkers in Ohio, receive political attention and favors, while solidly Republican or Democratic constituencies get taken for granted. The Obama administration surely did less for cities than it would have if it had feared losing urban votes.
But handouts and other pandering are far less valuable than the other asset that Republican-abandoned cities have lost: the particularly Republican perspective, with its focus on economic freedom, competition, and law and order. That perspective formulated some of the most successful policies in memory for making cities better places to live. Without it, the urban success stories of recent years could wither.
Some of our greatest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, are much safer today than they were 20 years ago, thanks to Republican leaders, such as former Gotham mayor Rudy Giuliani. Forty years ago, conservatives and liberals disagreed about how to fight crime. Conservatives looked to more effective policing; liberals, believing that poverty caused crime, bet on redistributive social policies. The past decades have overwhelmingly vindicated the conservatives. The expansive government programs of the liberals Great Society coincided with rapidly rising urban crime rates. Cities became safe again only when they embraced tougher—and smarter—policing.
Yet not all cities have gotten on the bandwagon, and safety remains a grave concern in many. The Republican Party should point to the success of the crime-fighting revolution and push for its adoption across urban America. Among the innovations that it could promote is New Yorks justly renowned Compstat system, which makes a police force more accountable by mapping crime, identifying hot spots, and demanding that the precinct commanders responsible for those areas make them safer. Simply hiring more cops also helps. And Boston and Los Angeles have achieved results by building connections with leaders in local minority communities, who came to see the police as friends rather than as outsiders (see The LAPD Remade).
Flourishing urban life depends on keeping the peace, and every American deserves to be able to walk down the street without looking over his shoulder. The GOP, historically the party of law and order, can convincingly make the case for urban crime reduction.
Republicans are also the natural champions of meaningful school reform, since theyre far less likely than Democrats to be in thrall to the teachers unions that bear much of the responsibility for the failure of our urban public schools. The Right has correctly promoted choice and accountability as key principles in making schools better. Great enterprises, from law firms to restaurants, spring up in cities because cities agglomerations of people produce free-market maelstroms, which encourage vigorous competition and innovation. Imagine what would happen to the quality of food in New York if the city replaced its thriving, hypercompetitive restaurant scene with a single public canteen. Thats exactly what cities have done by accepting monolithic public school systems. With no incentive to excel or improve, the schools can get away with selling a lousy product, and they do.
Charter schools—public schools that operate free from union contracts and other bureaucratic restrictions—can change that equation by breaking up the regular public schools near-monopoly on education. Theyre essentially a variation on free-market economist Milton Friedmans idea of school vouchers. Because of the efforts of Republicans (and of some urban Democrats whove broken with the teachers unions), charters have begun to make inroads in cities. But they remain limited in number by law and lack the classroom space to meet the growing demand for their services.
Not every charter school is a success, any more than every restaurant is a success. But the best ones have delivered remarkable results. Harvard Universitys Roland Fryer has examined students—mostly minority kids from poor families—who participated in lotteries to gain admission to charter schools. He found that the students who won a spot at the celebrated Harlem Children Zones Promise Academy, which includes two New York City charter schools, achieved test-score improvements that went a long way toward closing the black-white test gap that prevails in the regular schools.
The reasons for charters success arent mysterious. According to Fryers work, what correlates most closely with their impressive achievements in New York City is their longer class hours. So hard work and discipline—long-standing Republican watchwords—are providing urban students with a path out of poverty. And city students are indeed the prime beneficiaries of charters, as MITs Joshua Angrist and several coauthors have shown in another study: charter-lottery winners in cities enjoy large test-score gains, but suburban winners dont. That difference presumably reflects, among other factors, the higher quality of the suburban non-charter schools.
The GOP has more to offer on education. The No Child Left Behind act, a good first step toward introducing accountability into the nations poorly performing school systems, was a product of the Bush administration. Further, the most important ingredients in good schools are their good teachers, and Republicans can point to the private sector for lessons in building a talented workforce. Among those lessons: good performance should be rewarded, workers skills should be developed, and employers—in this case, schools—should be free to fire those employees who cant improve. At present, union contracts tend to make firing difficult.
Republicans have good ideas to share in other areas of urban policy as well. For example, improving city services while reducing costs is a priority in these budget-strapped times. My Kennedy School colleague Stephen Goldsmith, formerly the Republican mayor of Indianapolis, was a pioneer in letting private companies bid to provide services that had previously been monopolized by public workers. Properly managed, private provision can bring huge efficiencies and help reduce the dauntingly high labor costs in many cities.
Transportation congestion, which costs city drivers trillions of hours of time, is another major urban problem for which the Right has a smart policy answer. The congestion can end only when Americas cities stop following what is, in effect, a Soviet-style transportation policy. In the Soviet Union, the government sold eggs and butter at prices far below their market value. The result: long lines and empty shelves. The nominal prices were low, but you couldnt get your groceries. Todays cities similarly provide free access to a valuable commodity, city streets. The result: traffic jams, the automotive equivalent of long lines and empty shelves. Until we turn to a market-based solution—following the examples of London and Singapore, where drivers pay for the congestion they create—our cities transportation arteries will stay clogged.
The shortage of affordable housing in cities also calls for a market-based solution. Urban housing becomes unaffordable when robust demand for space crashes against an unnaturally fixed housing supply. Over the past five decades, many cities, with San Francisco and New York heading the list, passed zoning restrictions that made it difficult to build. Much of Manhattans land, for example, is frozen by historic-preservation districts (see Preservation Follies, Spring 2010). In many cities, too, the process thats necessary to get projects approved is long and complicated, deterring builders. All this depresses the supply of housing and raises its price.
To understand the power of unfettered supply to promote affordability, compare Republican Texas with Democratic Massachusetts. Bay State leaders constantly proclaim their passion for providing affordable housing for the poor. Yet Massachusetts remains one of the least affordable states in the nation for housing because its suffocating regulations restrict building, shoving up prices. By contrast, Texans, who rarely talk about affordable housing, enjoy lots of it (see The Texas Growth Machine). Texass housing affordability isnt the result of any top-down government program; it reflects the might of the free market and the Texan aversion to regulation. The power of housing supply is visible in Chicago, too. Housing there is far less expensive than in many of Americas big cities, in part because the citys leaders have unleashed builders, who create affordability as they erect skyscrapers.
The main reason that cities succeed is private entrepreneurial energy. Yet many of our cities continue to impose arcane rules on would-be entrepreneurs, restricting the formation of new businesses. Here, the party that has traditionally embraced business can be a powerful voice for economic vibrancy. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York has made the process of starting a business somewhat more straightforward. But New Yorks economy is so massive that it can survive overregulation. In other cities, such as Cleveland and Detroit, the costs of stymieing entrepreneurship have been far more severe. Those cities will recover from their decay only if theyre able to attract new start-ups, which (among other steps for the government) means shredding every unnecessary regulation in sight.
The Republicans abandonment of the city is good neither for their party nor for urban America. The GOP clearly needs a heftier percentage of the urban vote, but winning it by means of fiscal pandering or redistribution isnt the way to go—partly because such a strategy would cost rural and suburban votes and partly because it would be wrong. A better approach is to offer the good ideas that cities desperately need. Republicans have plenty.
Romney ran an urban centered primary and plenty of us warned that it was a mistake.
Let’s just stop calling them Ivy League Schools and call them Communist Indoctrination Centers instead. Let’s stop calling Dems liberals and call them Communists instead. There really is no difference now.
We need to fix it?
Blacks - 90% Democrat
Hispanics - 70% Democrat
Jewish Americans - 75% Democrat
Non-White Young People - 80% Democrat
White Young People - 50% Democrat
Some smart conservative should buy up neigbhorhood ad papers and toss in articles on why Section 8 hurts the poor, how welfare creates dependency, the racist/bigoted history of gun control, licensing and permitting, etc.
We complain about the low information voter, but ignorance can be cured.
The most important article of 2013 posted to FR. It deserves a higher profile. Conservatives will never win if we give up the urban vote. If we can increase our votes by 11% across urban voters it’s a 22% swing and the difference between controlling the Senate and winning the Presidency or being an opposition party forever.
The reasons why there has been a deterioration of GOP strength in the cities over the course of the 20th century is severalfold. Has a one-party Dem control been a disaster for them ? Of course. But the question is how can the damage be repaired ? This is not an easy thing to do. If said cities started voting GOP/Conservative again, it would undoubtedly launch a renaissance. But let’s face it, most simply don’t want to.
In short, the reasons why they won’t come down to this:
#1, Racial. For most Northern cities, Blacks were stalwart supporters of the GOP until the 1930s. After FDR, they went from majority GOP to competitive until the 1950s when they rapidly became a small percentage until by 1964 they were gone. A prime example is to look at the voting preferences for the IL 1st district in Chicago. Once an urban Republican district with a large Black population, it elected White Republicans with Black support until 1928 and then elected a Black Republican until 1934. After 1935, it never went back to the GOP, though it still remained competitive for close to 2 decades.
The post-FDR period of expansive big government projects played a role in Blacks departure from the GOP. Blacks had a more disproportionate trust for the federal government role for obvious reasons. It was the federal government that had liberated them from slavery, and tended to be disenchanted with a more local approach. Couple this with the fact that urban patronage being overwhelmingly Democrat in the post-FDR period, and you simply had no choice but to support the Dems to get anywhere. Even urban Whites had to go that route, and they did so ahead of Blacks (ethnic Whites especially — in Chicago, Eastern Europeans were voting Democrat going back to the 1890s and one CD in Chicago (occupied by Adolph Sabath, a Bohemian) flipped to the Democrats way back in 1906 and never went back.
Witness Irish voters in MA that never strayed from the Democrat column after the 1880s after they had been premier GOP districts, too. Even all these years and years later, breaking that loyalty is very hard. They vote with their racial/ethnic identity and not with what is necessarily best for them.
#2, Patronage. As I touched on before, patronage was the lifeblood for the political parties in urban areas. If you wanted a job or a relative had a job you depended upon, you had no choice but to support party R or party D. If the other party got in power, you might lose your job and livelihood. Up until the 1930s/40s, if you lived in Philadelphia and voted Democrat, you were playing with fire if you depended upon the system for a job. Philly was Republican until the 1950s. But after the Democrats broke the one-party monopoly that had lasted since the 19th century, if you were an urban dweller, you had to shift loyalties. Dems ultimately played that game far better than the GOP.
By the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were no longer enough Republicans in these cities to make voting for them a viable option. Only in unusual situations did the GOP make these close races, and often they were racially-based (such as in Chicago when Whites voted overwhelmingly for Upton or Eddie Vrdolyak over Harold Washington, or Frank Rizzo after his party switch, though they all still lost).
#3, Social issues. Up until the 1970s in urban locales, you still had enough White voters who could be construed as socially Conservative and patriotic. While they may not be enough to get Republicans elected in downballot races, they were enough to deliver statewide landslides for President Nixon in 1972 (with the last hurrah probably in 1980, and rapidly diminishing after that).
Unfortunately, in the post-Ike era, liberalism followed by radical politics took hold in urban locales. Many urban Democrats who had been semi-Conservative socially (though fiscal liberals) started to be aggressively replaced by the 1960s counter-culture, who started to show real strength in the early 1970s, culminating in 1974. Even sensible Democrats in Congress were pulled hard to the left, or they risked losing their power bases.
In the era of JFK, you had true-believing White liberals who believed showering government largesse was the answer to urban decay. Instead, it turned into an unheralded disaster. Whites fled the cities to the suburbs, and many whom had voted Democrat previously jettisoned it for the GOP. Blacks were, of course, hardest hit. Family unity (2-parent households) had reached their apex BEFORE the Civil Rights Acts of the ‘60s. With urban liberals in both parties (notably Republican John Lindsay in NYC, whom would eventually leave the GOP) pushing the welfare state (which often forced fathers out of the household in order for the mothers to get more $$ welfare), crime and chaos exploded.
Welfare destroyed the Black family, and with it, increased the need for more welfare. With dwindling two-parent households, neighborhood stability was destroyed. Even today, you can look at the % of households with two parents and figure how a given area is likely to vote. Those with the lowest tend to be urban Black, and predictably send some of the worst elected officials to office. Race-baiting Marxists who absolutely must keep their constituents dumbed-down and on the dole in order to preserve their own power. Sadly, this method has worked now for over a half-century.
When you’ve had people told over and over again they MUST vote this way or things might be worse under the GOP, it’s hard to break through. Even where the GOP hasn’t had a presence for 50 years or longer (Detroit, which hasn’t elected a GOP Mayor since the 1950s, or Chicago which hasn’t elected one since 1929), the party still is blamed for folks being down and out (hence to the ethnic pol, “The reason you guys are poor is because of the GOP. Vote Democrat so we can stop them !”). The outrageousness that it has been so effective (to the point that the Black vote has been monolithic Democrat since the 1960s) is truly remarkable (not in a good way).
Since the 1970s and onward, many urban dwellers, especially Whites, have been very supportive of social causes/issues that Conservatives find utterly repugnant. This divide has only grown in the past 4 decades to the point that it is virtually irreconcilable. This has been a part of the “culture war.” Issues such as abortion, homosexuality, sympathy to the “America is the source of all evil” agenda, anti-religious, hedonism (sexual, drugs), open borders, et al. Until the mid ‘60s or later, most of these were NON-issues in even the most liberal urban areas of the country.
Add in that in too many urban areas now, the vote to support culture rot (Democrat voters) can outdo those in the rest of their respective states. Remove Madison and Milwaukee in WI, and you have a heavily GOP state. Ditto Chicago in IL, St. Louis in MO, Atlanta in GA, Philly & Pittsburgh, NYC, et al. Sadly, however, in some states, the trendy culture leftism spread to the suburbs (Marin County in California, once a bastion of mainstream GOP politics until the 1970s, embraced moonbattery wholeheartedly amongst its mushy-headed upper-class Whites, and now it is one of the most politically extremist counties in the nation. It voted 53% for Gerald Ford in 1976, by 2008, McCain got 20% (even Bob Dole got 28% in ‘96)).
Even a heavily White Marin County is unreachable for the GOP, simply because their residents have a complete and utter disdain for Conservative values. Though this is a wealthy county and they (ironically and hypocritically) insulate their children from the Black urbanites to whom they vote almost identically and uniformally, the children are “educated” into supporting this destructive madness. Brainwashing.
It’s hillarious, if you forced these ultraleft White urbanites to live in the ghetto or barrio, they’d probably become the most reactionary people you’ve ever seen. That they use their wealth to insulate themselves from the policies that cause and proliferate poverty and refuse to support free-market policies (and an agenda of personal responsibility) that might uplift others is yet another example of their hypocrisy. They’ll smugly boast how proud they are to have elected the first Black President, yet they’re some of the most racist people you’ll ever meet.
Getting back to the question at hand, how do we make breakthroughs amongst these groups and voters ? In a lot of cases at the present time, you can’t. Even if we showered urban locales with money and people pushing our cause, at best, the shift would be negligable. This is something that is a long-term problem and cannot be changed in 1 or 2 election cycles.
Even in the cases where we might make a breakthrough (such as with Giuliani in NYC), many of the voters cannot make the connection that more right-leaning policies work and uplift. They’ll elect a Republican to get “tough” on crime, but still want to preserve and keep their leftist social and spending policies for which these cities plunged into the morass in the first place.
Sadly, too, once they’ve elected one ostensibly “good” Mayor, the follow-up will usually be back to business of the bad old days. Bloomberg following Giuliani being the premier example.
Until the late 1980s, we didn’t give much thought that the rot of leftism would come to take hold in a broader sense beyond these urban locales, that the tide had been turned under Reagan. It’s now worse than ever, with the media/educational/cultural complex brainwashing the “masses” that their leftist agenda is a righteous and uplifting one, when the rest of us know the truth and that soon the piper will have to be paid for this abominable direction we’ve gone in. Alas, so few on our side in positions of prominence have the courage to stand up and speak against it. We’ve reached Orwell’s nightmare that in a time of almost universal deceit, speaking that truth is a revolutionary act.
Two generations of “progressive” education and an onslaught of illegals have made future election success a steep climb.
In 2012, the majority of Cook Co. state senate & state house districts didn’t have any republican candidates. If you know any Repubicans, who live in those districts, please persuade them to run, even if they don’t think that they can win. In Cook Co., many Democrats are indicted, and that might help a Republican win.
That is Ph.D.-thesis quality stuff there. Well done!!!
Great essay, DJ!
Do you have any thoughts on how the unionization of government workers has impacted urban liberal entrenchment?
Also, the most liberal cities and states are those in which church allegiance and attendance is the lowest. Any thoughts on the federal government supplanting the traditional role religious charity used to hold and how government has become the religion of the left? Indirectly, you touched on that in your essay when you addressed the rise of welfare programs and the negative impact that has had on urban family structure.
Unionization of government workers (one could say that is under the aegis of patronage) is another example. Since Republicans generally tend to favor individuals over unions, you have that whole class of union workers who will generally be hostile to Republicans (although you may have some rank and file favorable to GOP social issues, the bosses and thugs are married to big government Socialism).
The only way to undo this is to end union membership of government employees. If folks wish to belong to unions in the private sector, that’s their business, but the concept of unionized government workers is absurd and repugnant. It’s the taxpayers who are the employers, and do you see “us” with a seat at the negotiating table ? Politicians negotiate with them with expensive benefits and money that doesn’t belong to them.
As for big government being the religion of the left, that’s more a statement of fact. It’s disturbing, of course, since all of your totalitarian regimes tend to seek to replace long-established morality and ethics of Judeo-Christian values with their own ideology and set of situational ethics and moral relativism du jour. It’s no surprise that leftists are the biggest enemies of the church/synogogue, as those “bitter clingers” are the greatest impediment to “hope and change.”
You see in our leftist enclaves that what is right and wrong is almost always upside down. The hillarity that they deign to lecture religious folks on tolerance when they themselves are viscerally intolerant of those who don’t subscribe to their bizarre mindset. Ever notice those self-described “peaceniks” are the most singularly violent and reactionary people you’ll ever encounter ? More of the bedrock core hypocrisy of leftism.
Europe is ahead of us in terms of being in the post-Christian era and also ahead of us in their embrace of socialism. The first situation leads to the latter or allows the latter to flourish. As Europe has turned aside from Christianity, it has embraced multiculturalism and opened the Pandora’s box of Islam.
The push is on here - big time. Christianity still holds sway in our southern states and to some extent in the mid-West, but is dying quickly in New England and the left coast. Nature abhors a vacuum and what creeps in to claim the space is secular humanism leading to the nanny state.
Americans are a generous people. Used to be that people showed their generosity through religious institutions. Without a relationship to a religious institution, too many people believe they show their generosity through support of higher taxes to support a welfare state. Democrats have done a stellar job of exploiting the spirit of generosity to suit their own aims in growing the government behemoth and buying votes.
Here is an alternate view on urban voting patterns:
It’s not clear who else you pinged to your very good commentary, but perhaps they too would be interested in this podcast.
Government employee unions are like the spoils system, for democrats only!
At least before it was fair, when in power each party but their own people in.
If it’s gonna be a true “civil service” it can’t be unionized when the unions are all part of the democrat machine.
Chicago government and all of Cook County has always operated on the spoils system. The father of the national party, Andrew Jackson, was a corrupter of the first order and without any irony a democrat. The Cook County Democrats were founded by Michael McDonald - a pimp, gambler, political boss and protean mobster.
Mayor Richard J Daley agreed with you and stated as much several times before the cameras. Who should he pick to run government? People who agree with him and his policies. It makes sense.
The government employee unions are simply following in a long tradition of normal self interest. The system has been in place since the beginning of America and is natural to human beings. The solution isn’t a ban on employee unions, although in the short run it’s all you have to kill the disease.
The solution is a very small government by US or state constitution (contract) and city charter. If government can only grant contracts to private enterprise you’ll soon end up with a class of rent seekers. It’s a natural progression. If the bidding process is transparent, objective, competitive and public you can stave that off a bit. America is up against Natural Law. It’s tough to fight that once government is so big.
Keep government very small, perhaps by constitution/charter limiting its expenditures to no more than 5% of gross state or local product or severly limiting taxation and debt. The solution isn’t easy and is completely dependent on an electorate that understands liberty and economics.
Every time we expand the franchise the number of voters willing to reject liberty and economics in favor of emotion and paternalism grows.