'Republicans to Cities: Drop Dead' Blares New York Times Headline

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch sent a Twitter message on Sunday morning complaining about the Sunday New York Times: "Practically nothing in NYT, predicable nearly unreadable Review section - even unintelligible Maureen Dowd."

Admittedly, the lead Sunday Review article by novelist Kevin Baker was more enticing to liberals, who seem to be section editor Andrew Rosenthal's intended audience: "Republicans To Cities: Drop Dead." (The headline and graphic are meant to mimic the infamous New York Daily News headline from October 30, 1975, after President Gerald Ford denied federal assistance to the city: "Ford to City: Drop Dead.")

Baker talked of "radio ranters" of the right wing, bizarrely suggested D.C. was a victim of "lax gun laws," and accused Republicans of racist "dog whistles."

A leading Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.

“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city -- don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.”

But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore -- at least not in national Republican politics.

Baker scolded the Republican Party platform for forcing the District of Columbia "to accept school vouchers, lax gun laws and the fact that it will never be a state." Lax gun laws? Since when? Guns were illegal in the city until a Supreme Court decision in 2008, and it's still illegal to carry a gun outside the home. (Which explains the District's low crime rate.)

...the national Republican Party still can’t get seem to get past its animus toward the very idea of urban life. The only place that Amtrak turns a profit is the Northeast corridor -- yet all Republicans can think to do is privatize it, along with the local rail lines on which millions of Americans have been commuting into cities to work for as long as a century and a half. Republicans promise to ban same-sex marriage, make it easier for anyone to get a gun, delegitimize and destroy what they mockingly call “public employees’ unions,” and deport the immigrant workers performing so many thankless but vital tasks.

In short, they promise to rip and tear at the immensely complex fabric of city life while sneering at the entire “urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” There is a terrible arrogance here that has ramifications well beyond the Republicans’ electoral prospects


At a moment when Republican Party’s “dog whistles” are more racially pitched than ever, this may sound crazy. Yet one got the impression this election season, for instance, that Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark, would like some new place to turn. Mayor Booker has battled valiantly against the sclerotic, black political establishment in his own city as well as outside white indifference. A Mayor Booker who had someplace to go besides the Democratic Party with his city’s votes would be immediately empowered as never before.

Republicans in turn could show on a very human level that they are more than the mere radio ranters who constitute so much of what urban voters get to hear of the right wing. They would have to vie for votes in a manner that reflects urban realities instead of fantastical theories. Imagine a serious, practical discussion of educational reform or mass transit, instead of more heavy-handed attempts to demonize teachers’ unions or privatize the rails.

The prospects for any such change don’t seem high right now. But that may change, too, out of necessity. The Republican refusal to contest the cities has left them in a permanently defensive stance in national campaigns. This can’t continue. The courts have already struck down many voter suppression laws, and the party’s 2008 presidential results read like an actuarial table, with Republicans increasing their percentage of the vote mainly in aging districts that are losing population. In the meantime, as urban areas continue to grow, they become more and more intertwined with what were once distant suburbs, making “urban” issues all the more pertinent to everyone.