The Sounds of Conservative Silence
As the news about the ongoing water crisis took hold in my hometown of Flint, I saw a number of articles about the issue in the mainstream press and left-leaning media. Most of these articles focus on the Emergency Manager law and talk about the switch from water provided by Detroit to the Flint River as a move “to save money.”
There are a lot of things left out of that story and I expected that some of the more conservative and libertarian media would look at this.
I had high expectations that weren’t met.
I also wondered if the state’s conservative think tank, the Mackinac Center would say something. Nada.
While pop stars are suggesting the governor of Michigan should be executed by firing squad, many on the center-right have remained strangely silent.
Or maybe it’s not so strange. Since this deals with urban areas it might not be considered as important to conservatives. In 2013, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser wrote an article for City Journal on the importance for Republicans to focus on cities. In the 2012 presidential election, Glaeser notes GOP nominee Mitt Romney only got 29 percent of the urban vote. Over the last few elections, the GOP has focused on suburbs and rural areas instead of cities. Glaeser recalls a time when the GOP thought cities mattered:
The GOP wasn’t always so dismissive of cities. Almost at the front of its 1968 platform was a section called “Crisis of the Cities,” which declared that “for today and tomorrow, there must be—and we pledge—a vigorous effort, nation-wide, to transform the blighted areas of cities.” The platform advocated “greater involvement of vast private enterprise resources in the improvement of urban life, induced by tax and other incentives,” as well as “new technological and administrative approaches through flexible federal programs enabling and encouraging communities to solve their own problems.” After Richard Nixon won the election that year, he sought to deliver on those promises. Aided by his HUD secretary, George Romney (Mitt’s father), he moved federal policy away from subsidizing disastrous public-housing projects and toward a system of housing vouchers. Nixon also championed block grants, which gave cities flexibility in distributing federal aid, allowing them to target their greatest needs.
However in 2012, cities seemed to disappear from the GOP platform:
The 2012 party platform, by contrast, had no city-oriented policies whatsoever and used the word “urban” just twice—once to decry the current administration’s allegedly “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” (The Obama administration’s urban policy has actually been rather timid. It has done little to reduce one of the federal government’s largest real social-engineering efforts, one that favors suburbs over cities: promoting homeownership with the mortgage-interest tax deduction and with subsidized mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That policy amounts to bribing people to leave rented urban apartments and buy suburban houses.)
When cities are mentioned by right of center writers, it seems to be only to prove how bad Democrats are at governing cities. Detroit was held up as textbook case number 1. But the writers had little if anything to offer.
It’s not that there aren’t ideas out there. But I think conservatives have come to see cities as a lost cause.
Which is why it’s frustrating that conservative writers are not focusing on Flint. As I’ve said in my previous article, there are a lot of factors that led to the current crisis. Conservative writers would look into this. Conservatives would also note that Governor Rick Snyder’s use of the Emergency Manager law was focused on helping urban areas. While some saw this as an attack on democracy, it was actually a way to help right the fiscal ship of distressed cities and help them become vital areas again. No it wasn’t a magic pill. Yes, the law failed in this instance. But the EM law was a way to insure that financially healthy cities were key to Michigan’s revival.
It has been interesting to see a white Republican governor involved in urban areas the way the governor has. It has not been perfect and yes, the state did drop the ball. But in a time when most GOP leaders are not focused on urban issues, Snyder’s attempt, however imperfect it maybe (and it was very imperfect) is noteworthy.
I just wish right-of-center media thought so too.