Discussing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Illinois Republican and NPV supporter Kirk Dillard said, “I’ve studied a myth among some Republicans that this empowers cities. The statistics do not bear that out.”
Wait, Kirk, what’s wrong with empowering cities? Do all Republicans, or even Illinois Republicans, feel that cities should not be empowered? For that matter, Hinsdale, Dillard’s hometown, looks awfully close to Chicago. Does suburban Chicago not benefit from increased empowerment by the engine of the region’s economy?
Dillard was specifically rebutting rural Republican state legislators’ claims that the National Popular Vote would hurt rural areas. The bill, which would give the Electoral College victory in the Presidential election to the person who receives the most votes nationwide as soon as enough states sign on to form a majority, would end the undue emphasis on a small number of states and, since more small rural states vote Republican, possibly hurt Republican electoral efforts, or so some think.
But the merits of NPV aside (I support it), Dillard’s choice of words illuminates two very interesting and subtle biases here. First, as I’ve written before, cities aren’t just minorities and poverty. In fact, the suburbs are increasingly as diverse and as riddled with areas of poverty as cities. When Republicans say they’re concerned about empowering cities, what they really are saying is that they’re afraid of those black and brown people who they wish weren’t part of America.
The second bias is America’s cultural idolatry of the simple farm life. Maybe it’s Thomas Jefferson’s praise of the agrarian society, or our frontier history, or the fact that American children grow up reading farmhouse stories like Charlotte’s Web or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (whose titular rats eschew the mechanized, urban life for a simpler one in a distant valley). Just look at the way commentators are fawning over Mike Huckabee’s homespun Midwestern charm.
In the 1950s, many middle-class white Americans saw cities as the past: dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, full of scary dark-skinned immigrants. The shopping mall, The Economist tells us, was “bringing urbanity to the suburbs” by recreating the city center’s feel in a suburban setting. But today, malls are dying: none will be built in 2008, and all new malls under development will be of the open-air variety, the Economist article tells us. Ironically, malls are increasingly filled with ethnic minorities who are themselves immigrating to suburbs rather than cities; Indian and Asian immigrant families today vastly prefer, and can afford, suburban homes with good schools and a scale of open space unavailable in their crowded home countries.
Meanwhile, the renaissance of America’s cities, and the lasting strength of Europe’s, is economic proof that more and more people like living there and that they will continue to grow and thrive. Republicans, and many Democrats, scorn them at their own peril.