Are Conservatives Fresh Out of Ideas for Cities?

 

In the conservative state of Texas, the largest city that regularly elects a conservative mayor is Fort Worth. Across the nation, it is uncommon for midsize and large cities to elect right-of-center mayors. The notable exception would be New York City, which has elected Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in recent memory.

Why do conservatives struggle to win elections in big cities? Do conservatives have any policy solutions that appeal to urban dwellers? Do city residents reluctantly turn to conservative candidates to address hard issues like rampant crime or budget crises, or after preferred candidates face personal corruption scandals?

Kevin D. Williamson, roving correspondent of National Review sat down with The Urbane Cowboys Podcast to talk about cities and urban policy. The Urbane Cowboys asked Williamson why conservatives and libertarians struggle to get elected in cities, and if conservative policy is ill-suited for densely-populated cities.

According to Williamson, conservative candidates fail to show enough interest in issues that are important to city residents.  For instance, city residents depend on public services like mass transit, to commute to and from work. If conservatives are to appeal to city residents, they must take a pragmatic approach as opposed to a purely ideological one. To be more relevant to city dwellers, conservatives need policy approaches that recognize the reality that taxpayer dollars will be spent on public services like mass transit, infrastructure, and other public goods.  Conservatives shouldn’t allow an inclination to privatize public services stymie innovation if privatization is not politically feasible.

Williamson also indicated that residents reinforce the differences between mid-to-large size cities and rural communities by where they choose to live.  Free people select cities or towns based on their lifestyle choices and career opportunities. Essentially, conservatives tend to prefer smaller, close-knit, communities with more freedom; whereas, liberals tend to favor urban areas with big city amenities. Mobility, while a good thing, enables self-selection of neighbors and surroundings.

The nation is becoming more urban, and cities are becoming the new laboratories of democracy.  Conservatives must offer policy solutions that improve public services, empower economic opportunity, and expand personal freedom if they wish to govern outside of rural America.  As times change so must policy.

Doug McCullough, Director of Lone Star Policy Institute

Photo credit: Jon Bilous

Published in Podcasts
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  1. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Forgetting about race for a few minutes (if it is possible for Republicans ever not to think about race) note that some of those cities are government towns. The ruling class and its groupies tend to congregate in those places, regardless of race. It creates a whole different atmosphere, and those places vote Democrat.

    Yet another reason to break them up. Smaller cities would be a lot healthier, in my opinion.

    Do you have an example where that has ever been done? Usually they merge into bigger units rather than break apart. The forces of centralization and consolidation are strong, and are rooted in human nature.

    Sort of.

    In Australia, “city” governments are basically meaningless. The true government is at the State level, and the State parliament can, and does, reorganize “city” councils at will, and all the time.

    But because the Councils have almost no power, it’s not an example. But it could be done. In the US, cities have “home rule” at the pleasure of the States. With the GOP dominating state legislatures, the GOP could pretty easily reorganize cities like Houston and Miami to break them up into smaller units.

    But they lack the political will to do so.

    • #31
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    But they lack the political will to do so.

    That means their constituents don’t want them to do it, right? 

    • #32
  3. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    But they lack the political will to do so.

    That means their constituents don’t want them to do it, right?

    No, it means they’re too afraid of losing their cushy jobs to do it.

    We seriously have to work on getting back to the “citizen legislator” model. You are not supposed to make being a job out of “being in government”. That we cannot seriously argue this point means that “government” is too damn big.

    I blame Wilson and the rest of the Progressives.

    I want us to go back to the days of Andrew Mellon loaning the Federal Government money while he was Treasury Secretary. That would go a LOOOOOOOONG way to correcting our underlying governmental problem.

    • #33
  4. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    DonG (View Comment):

    I think we are stuck. Cities attract people that like big government and politicians that like big government. Cities exist, because they are efficient with lots of stuff nearby. In the future “stuff” will be more virtual and nearness won’t matter much. Thus at some point we should disperse more. Eventually, we’ll all just live in pods on “farms” like in the Matrix. When? Self-driving cars solve transportation and logistics within 20 years. 3D printing solves a bunch of supply chain problems withing 25 years. Entertainment is shrinking to handheld already. Medicine 20 years…. In a generation there will not be a need for cities, except to support government workers, since government will not evolve at all.

    I agree with lots of this (except self-driving cars… that’s not happening in cities in any of our lifetimes without significant infrastructure investment).

    But the issue is so many people have a herd mentality and for whatever reason want to be around crap-tons of other people. The millennials I know want to live in a city, take public transit, and have “government” provide for them, which is an education issue.

    If we cannot break the Progressive stranglehold on education we will all end up living in pods like in The Matrix.

    I’m skeptical that humans will disperse. I thought we’d disperse 20 years ago when the internet and inexpensive communication became available. Instead, during those 20 years, people have chosen to pack themselves more densely. People are social creatures, and a large number of them seem to want to live in close proximity with one another (I’m not among them, but that’s what I see). There may not be a “need” for cities, but it appears many people are likely to choose to live in them. 

    • #34
  5. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    DonG (View Comment):

    I think we are stuck. Cities attract people that like big government and politicians that like big government. Cities exist, because they are efficient with lots of stuff nearby. In the future “stuff” will be more virtual and nearness won’t matter much. Thus at some point we should disperse more. Eventually, we’ll all just live in pods on “farms” like in the Matrix. When? Self-driving cars solve transportation and logistics within 20 years. 3D printing solves a bunch of supply chain problems withing 25 years. Entertainment is shrinking to handheld already. Medicine 20 years…. In a generation there will not be a need for cities, except to support government workers, since government will not evolve at all.

    I think some of this is already happening. I wish I could remember where, but I was reading an article a while back about the thinning out of retail stores in NYC and other urban areas due to Amazon and the like. For many people, part of the attraction of urban living is a bustling retail sector with lots of shops, restaurants, etc. Urbanists like James Howard Kunstler and others point out that when streets start losing retail stores, the street takes on a feeling of foreboding and it’s human nature to begin avoiding those streets like they’d avoid dark woods, thus compounding the problem and resulting in the disappearance of cafes, restaurants, etc. 

    I tend to agree that the tendency will be toward decentralization, although there will still be parts of the economy that function best with close proximity. In my job as a software developer, I could function just as well anywhere. My company thinks it’s important that I be in a cube with others like me to encourage collaboration, but even there, most of the time I interact with colleagues using Skype, screen-share sessions, IM, etc. It’s much easier and less disruptive to others if I show something on my screen to a colleague on his/her screen rather than have them walk over and look over my shoulder. Plus, I prefer communicating via IM over phone or face-to-face conversation because I have a record of it to refer back to.

    Until automation puts us all out of a job, I foresee more rather than less of this type of collaboration. Wonder of wonders, I recently learned that my own company is now encouraging telecommuting to save on office rental expenses, something I thought I’d never see.

    • #35
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    We seriously have to work on getting back to the “citizen legislator” model. You are not supposed to make being a job out of “being in government”. That we cannot seriously argue this point means that “government” is too damn big.

    We’re getting away from the main topic here, but one problem is that those who advocate the citizen legislator model (and/or term limits) are also opposed to higher salaries for short-term legislators and better pensions for them. So they’re in favor of defeating their own cause.   There are not many potential legislators who can take a break from their careers without long-term damage to their careers.   Lawyers are an exception. So we get lots of lawyers. 

    • #36
  7. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Having lived in a rural area for over 20 years now, I find it very interesting.  As our traditional ranch land is turned into subdivisions, more and more people move out here and then want to urbanize it.  Sometimes it’s stuff like streetlights (why move to the boonies if you don’t want to see the stars at night?), but for the most part the people that want more government want their neighbors to stop doing things that they don’t like.  

    The urge to tell your neighbor what to do seems irresistible for a lot of people.  More specifically, the urge to get someone else to tell your neighbor what to do.  Hence, more government.  

    • #37
  8. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Randal H (View Comment):

    “…the street takes on a feeling of foreboding and it’s human nature to begin avoiding those streets like they’d avoid dark woods…” 

    An intriguing parallel. 

    In my job as a software developer, I could function just as well anywhere. 

    My son manages a database and currently telecommutes. When they first started with that, he was required to show up once a week, They asked him if he knew why that was and he said something to the effect of, ‘to make sure I still know how to put on pants.’ 

    He works completely from home now, but still manages to put on pants every morning. 

    • #38
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    We’re getting away from the main topic here, but one problem is that those who advocate the citizen legislator model (and/or term limits) are also opposed to higher salaries for short-term legislators and better pensions for them. 

    Pension for a four-year gig? Tell it to the Marines. 

    • #39
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    TBA (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    We’re getting away from the main topic here, but one problem is that those who advocate the citizen legislator model (and/or term limits) are also opposed to higher salaries for short-term legislators and better pensions for them.

    Pension for a four-year gig? Tell it to the Marines.

    Then we’d have to elect only youngsters who haven’t really started their civilian careers yet. There could be certain advantages to that, but I wouldn’t want a whole legislature full of them. 

    • #40
  11. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    The urge to tell your neighbor what to do seems irresistible for a lot of people. More specifically, the urge to get someone else to tell your neighbor what to do. Hence, more government.

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    People are social creatures, and a large number of them seem to want to live in close proximity with one another (I’m not among them, but that’s what I see).

    Not the “social creatures” part, but I’m wondering if a common thread is being left wing?  What would a demographic study of Ricochet members reveal about preferred locales?

    • #41
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    The urge to tell your neighbor what to do seems irresistible for a lot of people. More specifically, the urge to get someone else to tell your neighbor what to do. Hence, more government.

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    People are social creatures, and a large number of them seem to want to live in close proximity with one another (I’m not among them, but that’s what I see).

    Not the “social creatures” part, but I’m wondering if a common thread is being left wing? What would a demographic study of Ricochet members reveal about preferred locales?

    I live in LA County, but I assume everyone else lives in a series of caves in Montana with the rest of their militia. 

    • #42
  13. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    TBA (View Comment):

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    The urge to tell your neighbor what to do seems irresistible for a lot of people. More specifically, the urge to get someone else to tell your neighbor what to do. Hence, more government.

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    People are social creatures, and a large number of them seem to want to live in close proximity with one another (I’m not among them, but that’s what I see).

    Not the “social creatures” part, but I’m wondering if a common thread is being left wing? What would a demographic study of Ricochet members reveal about preferred locales?

    I live in LA County, but I assume everyone else lives in a series of caves in Montana with the rest of their militia.

    I certainly do.

    • #43
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I live in LA County, but I assume everyone else lives in a series of caves in Montana with the rest of their militia.

    I certainly do.

    I never thought of Montana as a good place for caves.  But in googling about it I found there are a lot of them.

    No wonder I haven’t seen any of these people while driving through Montana. They’re all hidden in caves.

    • #44
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    The urge to tell your neighbor what to do seems irresistible for a lot of people. More specifically, the urge to get someone else to tell your neighbor what to do. Hence, more government.

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    People are social creatures, and a large number of them seem to want to live in close proximity with one another (I’m not among them, but that’s what I see).

    Not the “social creatures” part, but I’m wondering if a common thread is being left wing? What would a demographic study of Ricochet members reveal about preferred locales?

    I live in LA County, but I assume everyone else lives in a series of caves in Montana with the rest of their militia.

    I certainly do.

    And might I just say that I very much admire your hastily scrawled manifesto. 

    • #45
  16. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Yet another reason to break them up. Smaller cities would be a lot healthier, in my opinion.

    I live in Missouri.  St. Louis was the fourth largest city in 1900.  Today it is #62, behind Stockton and Lexington.  Due to its smaller size, it has the highest murder rate per population in the United States and is #13 in the world behind only a few cities in Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela; all of the cities in South Africa, Jamaica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia are safer.

    There has to be something other than small size.  Some of the very small St. Louis suburbs are known for being extremely corrupt and dysfunctional.

    • #46
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):
    There has to be something other than small size. Some of the very small St. Louis suburbs are known for being extremely corrupt and dysfunctional.

    We often discuss the red-blue conflict in terms of urban vs rural, but there is something else besides size differences.

    When I was growing up in rural America, a larger percentage of people didn’t have “jobs,” per se. Instead they owned farms or small retail businesses in town. Maybe there were a few professionals mixed in, but not tpoo many. There were laborers, too, but the community was very much flavored by people who were used to running things. The farms tended to be patriarchal, which we now know to be the epitome of evil.  But everyone in the family took part in the running and the success of the economic unit.  That fostered a different attitude about responsibility.  And in the evenings you’d have farmers bringing the odor of the dairy farm with them to school board meetings and church organizational meetings. There were conflicts, some of them nasty, but all of these people were very protective of their right to run their own community’s affairs.  They considered very seriously the progressive proposals to centralize control of roads and schools, and took their decision-making responsibility very seriously (though sometimes the decisions were to cede authority to the progressives).

    It’s very different when the less successful farmers have to sell out to those with more capital, and then have “jobs” instead of businesses. Or when the storekeepers sold out to the big chains, and maybe became employees of the big chains. Or when the independent professionals joined the big clinics.   They did it for reasons of economic betterment and security, but in the end it created a whole different attitude towards the running of local affairs.   It created people who were willing to let others govern. It created more Democrats who instead of asking how their community can best be regulated and organized, ask what’s in it for me.

    The old attitudes are not completely lost in rural communities, even now. But what’s left of them is seldom enough to flavor the politics. 

     

    • #47
  18. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    We seriously have to work on getting back to the “citizen legislator” model. You are not supposed to make being a job out of “being in government”. That we cannot seriously argue this point means that “government” is too damn big.

    We’re getting away from the main topic here, but one problem is that those who advocate the citizen legislator model (and/or term limits) are also opposed to higher salaries for short-term legislators and better pensions for them. So they’re in favor of defeating their own cause. There are not many potential legislators who can take a break from their careers without long-term damage to their careers. Lawyers are an exception. So we get lots of lawyers.

    But why is “legislating” such a big deal that it requires taking a break from your career? That there is a big case for the argument that government is doing too many things.

    • #48
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    But why is “legislating” such a big deal that it requires taking a break from your career? That there is a big case for the argument that government is doing too many things.

    It takes time, and to be successful in your career you can’t afford to get involved in distractions like that. How many days off can you take from your job without jeopardizing your career?  

    I have no problem with full-time legislators who have enough personal investment in their legislative jobs that they are jealous of all the power their predecessors ceded to the administrative state.  

    • #49
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    But why is “legislating” such a big deal that it requires taking a break from your career? That there is a big case for the argument that government is doing too many things.

    It takes time, and to be successful in your career you can’t afford to get involved in distractions like that. How many days off can you take from your job without jeopardizing your career?

    I have no problem with full-time legislators who have enough personal investment in their legislative jobs that they are jealous of all the power their predecessors ceded to the administrative state.

    I should also note that here in Michigan we had a long-time Republican state legislator who took a public stand in favor of a part-time state legislature. He’s a physician who kept his practice going while in the legislature; I was once in a waiting room when he came out to talk to the family of the person he had just been working on.  So he walked the talk as far as that goes. He was also friendly and talked to my young son when I took him to a political event. I know people who went to school with him and liked him.

    He was also a RINO’s RINO. The term RINO got to be way overused, but it was invented for this guy.  He spent one term in the U.S. Congress. He’s the kind of Republican that the media “respected.” He waited until after he had lost an election to publicly declare his contempt for conservatives. The only time I voted for a Democrat for Congress was to vote against him.  

    I’d rather have regular full-time politicians who work to restore our separation of powers.  The issue of a part-time legislature is a distraction.  And in his case, a ruse. 

    • #50
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