Be Careful with All the Self-Righteous Urbanism
A left-wing critique of Chris Christie's tax policy shows what may be wrong with Seattle's urban left.
I'm done letting Erica have all the fun commandeering On Other Blogs Today, which she's essentially changed from a daily roundup of news reports into a soapbox for her 1990s Grrrl zine agenda.
My turn to have some fun.
The latest issue of Rolling Stone has a Matt Taibbi feature story on Camden, New Jersey, a town that has devolved into a terrifying post-apocalyptic dump that's governed by gang warfare; Taibbi makes lots of chilling comparisons to Somalia and Iraq.
As usual, and thankfully sans his regular frat-boy posturing and macho cursing, Taibbi does a great job with on-the-ground reporting, political context featuring data and history, and riveting storytelling. But I couldn't help notice the awkward politics of the piece, as Taibbi latched on to the catch phrase "Your crime, your problem" to break down the heartless right-wing tax-cutting politics that led to the spike in crime.
The city for decades hadn't been able to pay even for its own cops, so it funded most of its operating budget from state subsidies. But once [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie assumed office, he announced that "the taxpayers of New Jersey aren't going to pay any more for Camden's excesses." In a sweeping, statewide budget massacre, he cut municipal state aid by $445 million. The new line was, people who paid the taxes were cutting off the people who didn't. In other words: your crime, your problem.
Taibbi's critique of the right-wing tax-cutting agenda could easily stand in for a critique of the same left-wing mentality I hear from urbanists who don't want liberal Seattle to pay for K-12 education in the rest of the "backward" state (opposition to the levy swap comes to mind ) or don't want Seattle wasting its hard-earned money on transit for car-centric suburbs such as Redmond.
Taibbi's critique of the right-wing tax-cutting agenda could easily stand in for a critique the same left-wing mentality I hear from urbansits.
Taibbi's reporting shows the disastrous effects of the narrow-minded politics that pretend we're not all in it together and that wealth distribution shouldn't be based on need and ability to pay.
Of course, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's tax policy came with a union-busting agenda, and he eventually jumped in to help Camden by directing county resources (Camden is near some wealthy suburbs) to the city's police force if they accepted his anti-union measures. That sucks (though most liberals I know don't like the cops' union either), but how is Christie's version of sharing the wealth based on his politics any different than a liberal version? The moral of the story is: be careful of the us vs. them political theories you espouse, because they may come back to haunt you.
In what could be the reverse of urbanist Seattle rap, Taibbi writes:
For a state with one of the highest median household incomes in America, New Jersey also has four of the country's biggest urban basket cases in Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Newark ... the upshot of the dramatic change was that Camden would essentially no longer be policing itself, but instead be policed by a force run by its wealthier and whiter neighbors, i.e., the more affluent towns like Cherry Hill and Haddonfield that surround Camden in the county.
I should note—and Taibbi has a hard time glossing over this point—the extra-funding from the wealthy suburbs has led to signs of hope and the beginnings of a turnaround in the crime rate.
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