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Urban Dreams

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Although most of my experience growing up was in small southern towns, I have grown to love big cities. Not the sunbelt monstrosities, sprawled out and dirty as they are. When I mean "city" I'm referring to the older metropolises created before the creation of the car, like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. I love the bustle, the sophistication, the diversity, and (of course) the liberalism. I believe that city-living is the best kind of living. For me, but not for everyone.

Which is the problem with the Nation's current pieces on the centrality of cities for the liberal project (see here and here). While I agree that cities are the heart of 20th century liberalism, we cannot obsess about them. From a theoretical point of view, we cannot impose our urban preferences on others. Cities are not the only appropriate way to live. Small town and suburban life have (or can have) real virtues. They can offer things that cities just can't, qualities that are deeply important to many people. By relying on our urban experiences to develop public policy, we are privileging a way of life that others don't want. Doing so would be no better than forcing me to become a Southern Baptist.

Another objection is practical. In electoral terms, cities are not our problem. Cities are the only regions where we do have huge majorities. Our focus should be in those areas where we are weak. We probably can't squeeze much more out the city vote, and cities do NOT have a majority of the population. We simply aren't going to win without a large share of the vote in small towns and suburbs, and a continued focus on cities will turn those areas against us.

Finally, I think that we have a responsibility to address the problems of small town America. Yes cities have struggled over the last few decades, but small towns have suffered as well. In many places they are quite simply disappearing. We have a responsibility to help these communities. They have problems too.

The difficulties in small towns present the Democrats with not just a moral obligation, but also a political opportunity. Their difficulties may make them ready to hear a liberal message. But it cannot be the same old city-centric liberal story. The solutions for the city may not necessarily be appropriate to solve these problems. We need to think from more than one point of view. If we are going to be a national party, we must serve more than one constituency. We need to be a city party, but we need to be a country party too.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:31 AM
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