Urban Life and Political Strife

Every couple of weeks, I get an email from Citiwire.net, a brainchild (I think) of Neil Pierce, the longtime observer of urban life and policy. Each email has two columns, one from Pierce and a second that “rotates” among a variety of writers. (Those of you interested in–or passionate about–cities should sign up. It’s free.)

Last Friday’s edition included a piece from Curtis Johnson, identified as the President of Citistates Group, commenting on a very prominent article from the previous week’s New York Times headlined “Republicans to Cities: Drop Dead.”

Johnson–who noted that he had worked many years for a Republican governor–said he cringed “to see the way sensible economics has been chained up, locked out and hooted over by the reigning ideology of today’s Republicans. Not that the Democrats are much better. A dear colleague of mine says ruefully that the Democrats don’t have very good answers, but Republicans don’t even understand the questions (and he’s Republican).”

Johnson goes on to report what most people who follow urban policy already know: as baby-boomers age, a huge number of them are abandoning suburbia and moving back into the cities, while the “millennials” already prefer urban life. (He shares a ‘factoid’ of which I was unaware–millennials are the first modern generation showing a decline in automobile ownership.)

Despite the increasing move to the cities–a move amply documented by demographers–those cities are struggling. Infrastructure is crumbling. Mass transit is lagging (or, as in Indianapolis, virtually non-existent). “Things that metro regions used to be able to build in a decade now take 30 to 40 years.” Yet policymakers of both parties give short shrift to these problems.

Johnson ends by pointing out something I’ve known ever since I got married, because it is my husband’s most persistent gripe: We rely upon our cities to generate the profits that pay the nation’s bills. Here in Indiana, certainly,  tax revenues generated in Indianapolis don’t stay here–along with the other cities in Indiana–South Bend, Ft. Wayne, Evansville–we pay the lion’s share of the state’s bills. We fund the priorities of Indiana policymakers–priorities that rarely include us.

It behooves us to take better care of the goose that is laying that golden egg.


Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

You are probably surprised to hear from me since, being Jewish, I haven’t written before. But things are really getting dicey here in the good old U.S. of A., and I was wondering if I might ask for one teeny-weeny gift this year.

I’d like some sanity, if you have any on hand. (I know it’s been getting harder to find.)

I wouldn’t bother you if we were just dealing with the usual hypocrisy. You know, congressmen screaming about how we need to keep the government from getting between you and your doctor while simultaneously voting to get between a pregnant woman and her doctor. Or those Republican Senators who screamed bloody murder during the Bush Administration about how the filibuster is wrong and undemocratic (small d), and who are now filibustering everything in sight, or the Democratic (big D) Senators who were doing the filibustering then and are screaming bloody murder about it now.

We’re used to that sort of thing.

What’s got me worried is the “Nero fiddling while Rome burns” behavior. It isn’t just politicians, either. As you know, Santa,  America is facing big problems. The cost of medical care is threatening to bankrupt the country. We are fighting two unpopular wars, at least one of which was unnecessary. The economy is in shambles. So our media fixates on Tiger Woods’ infidelity and Sarah Palin’s book tour. Really? And don’t get me started about the deranged  “birthers” who insist that President Obama is a Muslim-communist-Nazi socialist.

Speaking of fiddling and burning, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that the world  faces calamity if we don’t do something about global climate change, we have people—including several in congress—sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la la la—I can’t and won’t hear you!”

But what really got me, Santa, was reaction to a bill to regulate Wall Street. As you know, big bank shenanigans made possible by lax regulation were a major cause of the recession. (I know it has affected you and the elves, too; families have less money so you’ll have fewer toys to deliver.) Opponents of this bill are calling it “socialism.”

Santa, I understand arguing that a particular regulation is good or bad, but to argue that making banks play by some rules amounts to a “government takeover” is crazy; it’s like saying that giving an umpire authority to call outs is “socializing” baseball.

It’s paranoid.

I know it isn’t new. Back in 1964, Richard Hofstader wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” and gave examples of various lunacies through American history. (Remember when Robert Welch insisted that President Eisenhower was ‘a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy’?) When the problems we face seem enormous and their solutions impossibly complex, people do tend to “leave the reservation” as the saying goes. We’ve lived through the anti-Masons and the Nativists and the Klan. We’ll probably survive the current paranoia.

But just in case, Santa—can you bring us some sanity?