Will Wilkinson writes over at Democracy in America about a couple of recent pieces ruminating about a “conservative” case for rolling back government regulations and policies that push lower-income individuals OUT of the city and encourage people to move INTO the suburbs. Of the one’s he mentions, read Glaeser’s piece (he has a book coming out about cities, if you can’t tell) for a solid explanation of how progressive urban policies are actually terribly costly for the environment and warp economic incentives.
Wilkinson ties a couple of strands of the argument together into a pretty holistic but unsatisfying conclusion:
If we join Mr Glaeser’s argument to Mr Sowell’s, Republicans would appear to have at their disposal a powerful argument for pro-minority urbanism. If Republicans raised and fought under this banner, it really might precipitate substantial partisan realignment. But I don’t think it’s going to happen, and the reason is simple. The Republican Party, as it is presently constituted, is to a great extent the party of rural and suburban white people.
Wilkinson goes on to say that the pigeon isn’t likely to supplant the eagle anytime soon.
Yeah, ok. This is probably true at the mean, and Wilkinson is good at calling it out when he sees it. I think libertarians in general really get how UNconservative conservatism can be (at least according to how it defines itself). But no one is saying that conservatives have to work against the Joneses to pick up a new constituency. It seems entirely plausible to me that there’s a positive sum solution. Suburban conservatives are for the immediate future going to be beholden to the demographic Wilkinson describes, but that doesn’t preclude urban conservatives from creating their own platform of reforming perverse policies.
There was in fact a time when the conservative movement was a big tent, and it certainly can be broader again. I have no issues seeing a more libertarian, secular, urban conservatism flourishing. The biggest problem to me might not be the burbs, but the various classes within the city. Poorer demographics would have to align with wealthier, more secular, libertarian-leaning urbanites who would be the philosophical and political leaders of this movement. That seems like the more difficult task. But it’s not impossible — Democrats did it. And wouldn’t you know, there are also plenty of Blue Dog Democrats working right alongside the Chuck Schumers and Nancy Pelosi’s. They don’t always get along, but political coalitions in America are incredibly dynamic.
Wilkinson is funny with his piece, but he’s neglecting much. He says the Republican party, “as presently constituted” is a reason why things won’t change. Well ceteris paribus, I’m also never going to get out of this chair or finish this post. No one he’s critiquing is interested in how the party is presently constituted. The question is how it will move forward. To assume it won’t is to belie the last century of the American political saga.
So I do agree with Wilkinson that Glaeser was wrong to direct his post toward the Tea Party, but I think there might be a surprisingly strong base of urbanites who are more interested in improving the economics of the city than they are defining marriage. An increasing number of people identify as independent. SOME of them have to be disillusioned conservatives. And that conservative message (whether people believe it or not) is that the same principles of liberty that favor the wealthy, also favor the poor. They’re universal.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but it’s not as if you can just turn on a switch and make that kind of coalition happen. That doesn’t mean it can’t, though. Even if good ol’ suburbia remains.