While the Republican Party rightfully celebrates the re—election of President Bush and a slew of other Republicans in Congress, now is precisely the time for Republicans to extend their dominance in areas heretofore considered terra incognita: the nation's urban areas.
Republicans have mentally erected a sign at the borders where suburbs become major cities: 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' Yet writing off these areas while devoting resources to the suburbs, exurbs and the countryside is a flawed strategy on many levels. Cultivating and strengthening Republicans in cities can bring many benefits while simultaneously weakening the Democratic Party. For by planting the seeds now, we can reap in the future what we will have sown in the present. The time is now ideal to 'tear down this wall.'
The typical political map of America shows splotches of red and blue states indicating which Presidential candidate won that state's electoral votes. A more detailed perspective resembles a layer of Swiss cheese — broad Republican—held territory surrounding holes of Democratic strength. As demographics have changed over time, the outer suburbs have become the home of families, businessmen, the investor class, and socially conservative people who reliably vote for Republicans or for moderate Democrats. Conversely, cities and some urbanized inner suburbs became the home of a multi—faceted liberal coalition consisting of union members, culturally liberal intellectuals, journalists, entertainers, tort lawyers, members of the creative class, blacks, immigrants, and gays. These groups usually have voted for Democratic politicians and have helped to create a monopoly of big city politics for the Democratic Party.
These centers of power should be challenged and defeated because their control by Democrats has national implications for the Republican Party. Once in power, Democratic mayors have turned their fiefdoms into what can be characterized as Pacman cities: voracious power and money—hungry entities that, similar to the electronic game of yesteryear, seek to consume everything in their way. Taxes are imposed on a wide variety of services and goods: cigarettes, alcohol, retail sales, property, and the labor of people working in the city (even, or perhaps especially, if they reside in the suburbs).
The power of eminent domain is used to unjustly take private property from one party to give it to another. New regulations are enacted: the oft—abused 'minority set—asides' and 'living wage' laws. State or federal laws are proudly and defiantly broken (gay marriages are 'legalized,' resolutions are passed by city councils proudly declaring their refusal to participate in vital aspects of the Patriot Act.) Does anyone remember Fort Sumter? A few cities are seeking to expand their boundaries in order to tap more sources of revenue — either by merging with nearby communities or by outright annexation. These efforts are motivated by that most basic of human failings, greed, since money is the magic elixir of politics.
The power to control the public purse is the power to reward and strengthen friends and allies; conversely, this power can be wielded to weaken opponents. Democratic mayors treat cities as cash cows: sources of funds that can be channeled to strengthen constituencies that support the national Democratic Party. Patronage formerly involved a favored few finding sinecures in government jobs; with the expansion of the nanny state it involves billions of dollars.
Two groups in particular have reaped great rewards under Democratic mayors: those who benefit from expanded government spending (teachers and public sector employees) and those who receive government funds (welfare recipients). They show their gratitude by showering the Democratic Party with support. For example, the teachers unions send campaign contributions and volunteer workers to defeat Republicans and their initiatives . Teachers were 11 percent of the delegates at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The employment rolls of government workers have expanded massively under Democratic mayors and also provide an army of supporters than can be tapped to defeat Republicans. Indeed, Andrew Stern, the ambitious head of the Service Employees International Union, has made clear his intent to seek political power for his union. Similarly, the welfare rights advocates have become experts in the art of public relations and are quite able to tap friendly media to demonize Republican candidates.
Republican—leaning businessmen are not immune to the blandishments offered by Democratic mayors. Licenses and franchises (for example, concessions at airports and parks) are granted to politically connected supporters of Democratic politicians. Contracts worth millions of dollars are signed with businesses with the tacit understanding that they will find a way to rebate some of this money back to politicians. A recent Los Angeles Times story pointed out that the contentious mayoral campaign there was largely funded by those with city contracts.
One of the reasons the Republican Party is so weak in the city of Chicago is that Mayor Daley the First cut a deal with real estate developers and related businessmen: he would bulldoze their projects through the cumbersome approval process in return for their betrayal of the Republican Party. The Party has yet to recover.
The response of many Republicans has been to cede the cities to the Democrats while marshalling their forces in the suburbs and countryside. This might at first glance be seen as a logical response to the move by many middle—class families to those areas. Suburbs are usually perceived as being more congenial environments in which to buy homes and raise families. They have also been using their increased economic power to develop attributes normally found in central cities: entertainment venues, art museums, restaurants, and symphonies .
But this carving up of America into spheres of influence (a tacit gerrymandering writ large) is a mistake on two levels. As noted, urban Democrats can seize vast resources by virtue of their perch in the core cities and empower the national Democratic Party that affects us all, wherever we may reside. Money and power are fungible and will be channeled in ways that weaken the Republican Party and policies.
A second reason this capitulation is wrong is that it is based on an outmoded and distorted view of city residents. They might very well be receptive to Republican Party views and candidates if they were exposed to them systematically in a more favorable light. They may, in other words, be more persuadable than has been assumed.
In order to encourage this conversion, Republicans must overcome the perception that they do not care about or understand urban problems. They must present innovative plans to help residents. For example, charter schools and school choice are winning issues with blacks who are dissatisfied with the mediocre schools and teachers that deny their children the opportunities which should be open to them. This is an issue that the Republican Party owns; for Democrats it would be a third—rail that they dare not touch for fear of offending their masters in the teachers' unions.
Now that Republicans are so dominant on Capitol Hill, efforts should be made to substantially step up federal funding for charter schools. When cities are complaining about lack of federal help for schools, we should raise the stakes and call them by proving a torrent of money for charter schools. These efforts are being tried right now in New York City.
City residents constantly rank crime as one of their biggest fears — again, an issue that the Republican Party owns (Rizzo in Philadelphia, Giuliani in New York). They are also increasingly dissatisfied with a wide range of the city services that they use. Privatization of many services, from mass transit and garbage collection to school vouchers, holds the potential for great improvements in quality and holding the line on, if not reducing costs.
Furthermore, many blacks and recent immigrants share the same religious and moral values that Republicans hold dear, and the Republican Party would clearly hold great appeal for them if a more intensive effort were made to reach out to them, and present an effective message.
Visions of Republicans assuming leadership roles in major urban centers are not fantasy; it is actually history, for there is a sterling record of Republican stewardship of various cities. These Republican politicians have won by, for the most part, following the above prescriptions. Stephen Goldsmith became a successful mayor of Indianapolis by privatizing many city services and making them more responsive to the people. Bret Schundler amazed everyone in 1994 by winning the mayoral race in Jersey City, capturing 40% of the black vote and 60% of the Hispanic vote in a city where only 6% of the voters were registered Republicans. He ran on a tax cutting, crime control, and school choice platform.
Once in office, Schundler lead the fight to pass charter school legislation on the statewide level, pioneered (as befits an ex—investment banker) the use of medical savings accounts, and introduced innovative business and neighborhood improvement districts. He also privatized the delivery of public services (including the public library!).
Rudolph Giuliani capitalized on his reputation as a crime fighter to win the mayoral race in New York City. Norm Coleman successfully lead St. Paul, cutting taxes, spurring job growth, and overseeing a vast increase in property values. After winning wide praise in St. Paul, he was able to win a statewide contest to become Senator, winning over Minnesota legend and ex—Vice President Walter Mondale in a state that has been reliably Democratic for many years. The trajectory of his career leads to one of the other reasons Republicans should not abandon the cities to the Democrats: they can be springboards to national power.
A mayor of a major city enjoys wide name—recognition that can be ideal for those aspiring to higher office. The rough and tumble of contentious city politics can be a prime training and proving ground and provides a solid record to run on for those seeking national office. Certainly the bona fides of those seeking leadership roles are far stronger for big city mayors than for the mayors of suburbs, whose problems are small, and interest and ethnic groups more homogenous.
Beyond these strategic reasons for Republicans returning to the cities there are moral ones. After Kerry's loss to Bush, an editorial made the rounds called 'It's the cities, stupid,' which called on Democrats to adopt politics that excluded countryside and suburban communities, since Democrats were the party of 'urban America'. The paper suggested a political approach catering to city residents at the expense of those living in 'soulless sprawling suburbs' and in the countryside. We were told that the urbanized reject the 'heartland' values like xenophobia, sexism, racism and homophobia and, on top of that, non—urbanites were dumb.
This paper represents a politics of division and is a formula to fragment our nation— it is a cynical and mean—spirited rant against the tide of Republicanism in America. The Republican Party should rise above this type of petty and demeaning stereotyping and show an appreciation for our cities' residents and appreciate the role that cities have played in our history. Cities have always been melting pots where people can learn about the wide and wonderful diversity that has made out nation great. They should not have devolved into separate worlds from the nation's suburbs. There is no room in our country for the Eloi and the Morlocks.
Cities have been unifying places and are the birthplaces of civilization. They can be so again. Republican leadership can reduce the crime that has robbed city people of more than just their possessions, can return prosperity to those areas that so desperately need it, and can rejuvenate the school systems so that students have a chance to succeed in life. The Democrats see major cities as cash cows to be milked for favored groups; we should see them as areas ripe for venture capital — areas that with the right type of Republican activism and resources could be painted red. We should no longer avert our eyes from the city, for we do so at our own peril.