A ru­ral veto in Amer­ica

The di­vide be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral now runs as deep as at any point since the 1920s.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - RON­ALD BROWNSTEIN Ron­ald Brownstein is a se­nior writer at the Na­tional Jour­nal. rbrown­stein@na­tion­aljour­nal.com

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s im­pas­sioned com­ments about race drew the most at­ten­tion when she ad­dressed the U. S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors last week­end about the Charleston, S. C., tragedy. But the loud­est ap­plause dur­ing her talk pointed to a dif­fer­ent di­vide re­shap­ing U. S. pol­i­tics.

Nearly ev­ery mayor rose when Clin­ton pledged to re­vive the cause of “com­mon- sense gun re­forms” that deny weapons to “crim­i­nals and the vi­o­lently un­sta­ble.” As they cheered, it was easy to for­get that since Bill Clin­ton’s first term as pres­i­dent, an im­pen­e­tra­ble pha­lanx of re­sis­tance from nonur­ban Amer­ica has blocked all gun- con­trol mea­sures in Congress. Though gun con­trol re­tains wide­spread sup­port in cen­tral cities, that hasn’t over­come in­di­vis­i­ble op­po­si­tion from con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, who al­most all rep­re­sent sub­ur­ban and ru­ral con­stituen­cies, and a few ru­ral Democrats who side with them. Charleston prob­a­bly won’t change that.

Gun con­trol may be the is­sue that most sharply di­vides ur­ban from nonur­ban Amer­ica. But it is hardly the only one. Pres­i­dent Obama en­joys wide­spread sup­port from big- city may­ors, in­clud­ing some Repub­li­cans, on most of his key do­mes­tic ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing health re­form and uni­ver­sal preschool. “He is the first ur­ban pres­i­dent since John Kennedy, so it’s not a shock his agenda aligns with what we are do­ing,” says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first- term chief of staff. But from Congress to state leg­is­la­tures, these ideas face fe­ro­cious op­po­si­tion from sub­ur­ban and ru­ral Repub­li­cans, some­times joined by the dwin­dling ranks of ru­ral Democrats.

The pri­or­i­ties of ur­ban and nonur­ban Amer­ica may con­flict more to­day than at any point since the 1920s. Back then, ru­ral Amer­ica — mostly white and heav­ily evan­gel­i­cal — backed Pro­hi­bi­tion and immigration re­stric­tions in a rear­guard ef­fort to im­pose its val­ues on a ris­ing ur­ban Amer­ica teem­ing with the eth­nic and re­li­gious di­ver­sity of new im­mi­grants. The cities forg­ing a new Amer­ica won that round when they co­a­lesced to help elect Franklin Roo­sevelt in 1932.

The mod­ern Demo­cratic coali­tion is again over­whelm­ingly cen­tered on cities. In 2012, Obama won by more than 5 mil­lion votes. Yet he won only 690 of the 3,113 coun­ties — fewer than any win­ner since 1920. Obama tri­umphed by dom­i­nat­ing Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lous ur­ban cen­ters and many of its in­ner sub­urbs, even as his sup­port with­ered be­yond them.

A map of Congress, or of most state leg­is­la­tures, would sim­i­larly show Democrats con­sol­i­dat­ing con­trol over ur­ban cen­ters but wan­ing out­side them. The same de­mo­graphic pat­tern drives both trends. Cities are largely pop­u­lated by mi­nori­ties and by the whites who feel com­fort­able liv­ing amid racial and cul­tural di­ver­sity. That sort­ing has cre­ated a left­lean­ing ur­ban con­sen­sus that al­lows Democrats to elect may­ors in vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor city, in­clud­ing in oth­er­wise red states.

The f lip side is that apart from some white- col­lar, cul­tur­ally lib­eral sub­urbs ( par­tic­u­larly along the coasts), Repub­li­cans are rout­ing Democrats among the white vot­ers who have cho­sen for cul­tural or eco­nomic rea­sons to live be­yond city cen­ters.

This align­ment has left Democrats strong in city hall and the White House. But in be­tween, Repub­li­cans are en­joy­ing their great­est strength in Congress and state gov­ern­ments since the 1920s.

The par­ties in­creas­ingly wage their pol­icy strug­gles from these com­pet­ing strongholds. Af­ter 26 Repub­li­can- lean­ing states, many of them ru­ral, sued to block Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion pro­vid­ing le­gal sta­tus to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, 33 cities legally in­ter­vened to sup­port him. While the GOP Congress has ig­nored Obama’s call to in­crease the min­i­mum wage, cities in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les and Seat­tle are rais­ing their own.

Cities are em­brac­ing other Obama pri­or­i­ties Congress has shelved, in­clud­ing ex­panded preschool, paid sick leave and equal work­place treat­ment for gay res­i­dents ( more than 200 cities). Con­versely, on is­sues that in­clude the min­i­mum wage and sick leave, some con­ser­va­tive state leg­is­la­tures have passed laws pro­hibit­ing lib­eral cities from act­ing.

In de­ci­sions un­der their con­trol, cities are pur­su­ing a his­toric wave of pro­gres­sive in­no­va­tion — of­ten with White House sup­port. But cities con­tin­u­ally face frus­tra­tions over na­tional pol­icy, es­pe­cially in the Se­nate where the Founders’ de­ci­sion al­lo­cat­ing two sen­a­tors to each state com­bines with the fil­i­buster to mag­nify ru­ral in­flu­ence. Noth­ing bet­ter demon­strated that dy­namic than the Se­nate’s 2013 vote re­ject­ing uni­ver­sal back­ground checks for gun pur­chases. If you as­sign each sen­a­tor half their state’s pop­u­la­tion, the 55 sen­a­tors sup­port­ing back­ground checks rep­re­sented 194 mil­lion peo­ple, and the 45 op­pos­ing it 118 mil­lion. Yet by sus­tain­ing a fil­i­buster, the mi­nor­ity blocked the bill.

Clin­ton wants may­ors to charge that hill again, but the last skir­mish over gun con­trol of­fered a pointed re­minder that on most is­sues re­quir­ing na­tional ac­tion, nonur­ban Amer­ica holds a veto over ur­ban pri­or­i­ties — and prob­a­bly will for years ahead.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.