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?

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.