What Incentive Do Republicans Have To Do Good Things for the Cities?

Yesterday I briefly mentioned a Greg Sargent post that considered the extraordinarily non-urban nature of the areas Republicans represent in Congress (or at least the House), and raised a perennial question: why should GOPers care about urban policy, especially if it involves using government to solve problems? Aren’t they by definition Democratic problems?

Quoting Cook Political Report‘s David Wasserman, Greg suggests the GOP’s suburban constituents expect some attention to urban policy, since it affects them as well. He also quotes a conservative wonk who basically says national political parties have to deal with national problems even if they don’t affect core constituencies.

Both of these observations are accurate, of course. But I’d go a bit further. Ideology is famously important to political parties these days, and is especially important to Republicans. Having an ideology involves a perspective on how to make the country better in all its constituent parts. Now that doesn’t mean an equal or even an proportionate degree of attention to different problems or different people, and “attention” can be negative as well as positive, particularly for those whose politics includes a demonology. But still, it would discomfit the very conservative ideologues you’d expect to be least interested in an urban policy if their party had nothing to say on the subject.

Ideology, moreover, sometimes involves taking positions that have no impact, or even a negative impact, on one’s own immediate interests, and/or those of important constituencies. There’s a reason we are all a bit astonished that Mike Huckabee is defending Social Security and Medicare against Republican schemes to reduce or restructure benefits. If politics were nothing but a money scramble among constituencies, Republicans would be taking Huck’s position all day long (instead of selectively Medagoguing Democrats by way of attacks on Obamacare) and it would be Democrats talking about means-testing these programs.

This is another reason why I don’t have much patience for people who despise ideology and long for the days of deal-cutting pols who didn’t give a damn about party or principles. Ideology can, of course, make terrible things happen, but it can also force people in politics to show at least occasional fidelity to something beyond themselves and the people who vote for them. Without it, you really do have politics that never rises above the tribal question of What’s In In For Me?

Washington Monthly - Donate Today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.