Writing in Salon, David Denvir notes that instead of attacking cities as scary, crime-ridden places like the conservatives of yesteryear, the modern Republican party is mostly just pretending they don't exist. Nowhere is this more evident than in the GOP presidential primaries, where, with the exception of one particularly stupid Gingrichian comment about putting inner city kids to work as janitors, cities and urban issues have scarcely even been mentioned.
The first two primaries are held in rural, low-population states, which serves to skew the campaign rhetoric away from the urban. But Denvir notes that the candidates' blind eye to urbanity is rooted in a deeper, more complex problem:
The specter of the black ghetto still scripts urban dwellers as villains (often as thieves robbing the citizen either directly, or as in this Rick Santorum comment, indirectly: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money”). But unlike the era of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, today cities are more ignored than attacked. And this goes well beyond Iowa.Yet crime rates have fallen, almost across the board, in American cities, so they're no longer that scary. Rich young Americans are moving into cities, lending them a veneer of cool. But they largely remain Democratic strongholds. Perhaps because of this, the GOP has evidently determined that engaging urban issues at all is a waste of time.
“The core of the Republican constituency in metropolitan America are the growing, racially and economically exclusive ‘outer suburbs’ whose privileged status Republicans seek to protect at all costs,” says former mayor of Albuquerque David Rusk, now a consultant. He cited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as an exemplar of the trend.
Which is weird. Cities, of course, are the primary engines of the nation's economy. And Americans may not be flocking to cities as quickly as the rest of the world, but the trend still looks to be heading towards urbanization. So it's screwy indeed that one of our two political parties can get away with scarcely acknowledging such a vast swath of the population–and the place that most Americans will likely soon live, especially as ever-rising gas prices make long commutes less tenable.
Obviously, our politics–especially our outsized, epically-proportioned presidential campaign politics–panders to a mythic and nostalgic semi-reality that voters prefer to real reality. But we really should be talking about cities, about smart growth, and about sustainable development. We need to be talking about how to make our cities better places to live, how to address poverty in the inner city, and how to keep tomorrow's denser, more connected communities healthy and happy. Not to mention that the era of the McMansion is ending, and catering exclusively to the exurbs is an unsustainable strategy. Ignoring cities at this point isn't just odd; it will soon become bad politics.