Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Elephant and the City

Recently I ran into an article about Chris Christie the top republican candidate for the Governor's Office in New Jersey. In the article, Christie points out that the republican party has to be more inclusive and reach out to urban areas. The article quotes:

"’s time for the party to build that relationship with urban populations. There are folks there already – Republicans, let’s be clear. They are there. But they need help for them to do their jobs. We need campaigns that not only talk about going into the urban areas, but that go into the urban areas."

For decades now, the Republican party has choose to target only suburban and rural voters and all but concede and at worst ignore voters from urban areas. The Republicans who have used Nixon's southern strategy to win elections has gradually become more fiscally and socially conservative as the nation becomes more urban. In 2000, the U.S. had officially more urban residents then rural residents and in 2008, close to 80% of all Americans live in a metropolitan region. The 2006 and 2008 election cycles have proved that the southern strategy is no longer working nationally and now evidence is showing that the same strategy may not be working on a local level.

While the GOP is now preaching inclusion, one has to wonder how inclusive in philosophy can they be? A party that has defined itself by tax cuts and small government can't possibly embrace programs such as education and housing reform that would expand the role of government can they? Up until this date many republican leaders still advocate for school vouchers and allowing the market to determine housing needs and reducing the government's role in healthcare. Many of these ideas are unpopular in urban areas which fundamental shifts in how government is ran and funded in their communities.

The article mentioned above also quotes,

In this party we need campaigns that are serious about establishing those [urban areas] beachheads,” he adds. “I’m not disparaging the hard work small numbers of Republicans do in the cities. I’m just talking about the need now to take it to another level.

What the Republican party needs is an Urban Agenda to really matter in today's America. Social and fiscal conservatism will not work in rebuilding America's cities. Tax cuts will not help those who do not money and depending on the private sector will not turn around our schools and communities. The GOP must have an agenda that addresses issues which for a long time they have tried to ignore like, inequality, inequity and discrimination.

The Agenda must also respect a community's sense of place and not have the expectation that people can pick up and leave if something in the community is broken. If something in the community is broken, such as education, poor housing, inadequate policing then it is up to the government to fix or alleviated that problem to the best of it's abilities. A broken community should not have to wait for the private sector to improve it's conditions after the community has fallen or wait for the ingenuity of others to fix the most basic needs and guaranteed rights of out citizens.

Having a second party for the needs and interests of Urban America can only make cities stronger. The current system of having one party take cities for granted while the other party ignores them has not been healthy or beneficial to cities and now the same can be said of the Republican party. If the Republicans do not seriously adopt an urban agenda they will risk becoming even more exclusionary and even worse...irrelevant.

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