No, the Suburbs Didn’t Rise Up To Smite the Hipsters at HUD

Without a question the most accurate election projection I made before November 4 was that we would experience a vast wave of over-interpretation. That always happens, since an awful lot of people on the winning “team” (and some on the losing team) have axes to grind and want to make sure we understand “the American people” marched to the polls determined to send a “message” that happens to coincide with their pet cause.

The most remarkable example so far appeared in the form of a Daily Beast column by Joel Kotkin, entitled “The Progressives’ War on Suburbia,” which interprets the midterms as basically an act of revenge by suburbanites against the snotty elitists at HUD who favor high-density development in cities. Seriously:

You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won’t live the way—in dense cities and apartments—that you have deemed is best for them?

This gap between party ideology and demographic reality has led to a disconnect that not only devastated the Democrats this year, but could hurt them in the decades to come.

Now to appreciate this column, you have to understand that Kotkin has been writing variations on this theme for at least a couple of decades. He is sort of the high priest of suburbia as a way of life, and has become increasingly combative towards “smart growth” advocates who are not fond of suburban sprawl (if Kotkin were to form a political party, its symbol would be a Hummer and all its meetings would be at strip malls). Perhaps the best compliment I could pay to Kotkin is that he has never, so far as I know, given credence to the Agenda 21 hysteria, even though it is exceptionally consistent with his world view. And even though Kotkin lives in and writes constantly about California and was one of the earliest prophets of the state’s political and cultural divisions running across an east-west rather than a north-south axis, he manages to write passionately about coastal elites strangling the Central Valley with their stupid environmental rules without descending into the semi-racist ravings of a Victor Davis Hanson.

Still, Kotkin looks at the 2014 election results and instead of a largely-turnout-driven shift to the GOP which could well be reversed in two years he sees a massive repudiation of the Obama administration by people who sense hipster disdain for their lifestyle choices at HUD. After all, he says, Democrats aren’t interested in “suburban issues” like “stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools.”

Huh. I could have sworn that “stagnant middle class wages” has become far and away the dominant theme of progressive commentary about what Democrats need to talk about going into 2016. Obama has spent a good part of his presidency begging Republicans to help with an economic recovery strategy focused on investments in better roads and other infrastructure projects important to suburbia. I do believe it’s Obama that’s focused on improving school performance (ever heard of Race to the Top?) while Republicans are tripping over each other to repudiate the idea of higher common school standards. And it requires a special myopia to blame environmental or land use regulations for a lack of affordable housing while making common cause with the party that opposes any federal role in housing policy and treats tight money and tough lending standards as a permanent moral imperative.

But as they saying goes, when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And Joel Kotkin is definitely a hammer. So of course, this and every other election is a Mandate for Suburbia. Who knew?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.