The New York Times published a piece yesterday which read as a reprimand to the pride and satisfaction Democrats feel about living in cities. Titled "Go Midwest, Young Hipster," the provocative piece warned that large Democratic majorities sequestered in cities are going to waste because despite the larger numbers of Democrats nationwide, the party is losing votes in the exurbs, smaller towns, and rural states that command disproportionate sway over national elections.
The NYT sums up the situation this way:
The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.
The article also reads as a bit of a rejoinder to a defining urbanist manifesto published in the Stranger over a decade ago, the "Urban Archipelago," which the paper ran in the wake of Bush II's 2004 reelection. The piece urged the reverse of the NYT's argument, essentially: Move to the cities (ie, Seattle) young hipsters.
(You probably won’t be surprised to learn that as the Stranger's news editor at the time, I wrote a section of the manifesto called “Urban Independence” that spelled out green urbanism; and check it out: urbanism is definitely becoming a tenet of the Democratic Party these days.)
But here's the thing: The New York Times article this Sunday and the "Urban Archipelago" piece were both wrong.
Trying to colonize Indiana, for example, or giving up on Indiana are equally misguided political strategies for the left.
As to the colonizing approach: one major legacy of the civil rights movement should dispel any notion that outsiders-moving-in is a wise tactic. Yes, congress passed major civil rights legislation. But immediately after the legislative successes of the civil rights movement, the Democrats lost the South—enter Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. And just wait for Trump's showing in the South. There are certainly many reasons for this—and the persistence of racism is at its core. But the sense that the civil rights movement featured carpetbagging Northern activists adds another aspect to the South's intransigence, which translates into a disgust for top-down, outsiders telling them what to do. Translation: the federal government. And that translates into distaste for Democratic policies; Democratic policies—from economics to social issues—rely on government intervention. (For the record: civil rights era legislation is brilliant and fantastic, but it was largely a homegrown southern movement that got it going.)
As for bailing on flyover country, the NYT made a strong case Sunday that it's a bad idea; in fact, they ran a similar piece in 2014 showing that Democrats will never take back the house if they remain sequestered in cities.
The right strategy for Democrats is neither to become carpetbagging missionaries nor to retreat to cities. The right strategy is for Democratic leaders in small-town America to make the case that liberal policies actually match small-town interests. And judging from a parade of recent polling and data—Americans are happier with the economy than they were during mid-90s boom (and way happier than they were before Obama took office), incomes grew across the board this past year (and the most for those at the bottom), a majority think Obama is doing a good job, a majority support free trade, and 60 percent oppose reducing immigration—it's the Democratic POV and not Donald Trump's grievance-driven populism that's compelling for the majority of Americans.
Note to self-hating liberals who feel guilty because you supposedly live in an elitist bubble. It's actually Trump voters who appear to be living in a bubble.