Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and the New Wave of Anti-Urban Politics

There’s a long history of anti-urban propaganda in American politics. Here are a few classics of the genre: “Transit’s a waste of money that needs a subsidy.” (Nevermind that urban residents subsidize country roads.) Any reference to “elites” or, somewhat paradoxically, any mention of welfare would also achieve the desired result (as if rural areas were not collecting these funds). The name of the game is to cast city dwellers either as parasitic government dependents, invoking racial stereotypes, or as snooty liberals, whose tastes and values are suspicious and un-American.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, anti-urban extremist. Photo: Human Events

Cue Mitt Romney announcing that if he’s elected, he’ll get rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (It has the word urban in it, for Pete’s sake.) The position seems like an outgrowth of Tea Party raving about Agenda 21 forcing Americans into “tenement housing” and taking away their cars.

Perhaps no American elected official exemplifies this divisive brand of politics more than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Wisconsin is a really interesting case because of how its two major cities are perceived. Walker has made a frequent target of Madison, the progressive college town and state capital, which neatly stands in for out-of-touch liberals. Then you have Milwaukee, one of the most racially segregated metro areas in the country, its social ills compounded by poverty brought on by deindustrialization, playing the role of parasite.

James Rowen at Network blog The Political Environment points out that Walker has made a career of antagonizing these cities:

It’s worth noting that Walker, from the beginning, implemented an anti-urban strategy:

*  Kill the Amtrak line, and the benefits that would have accrued to Milwaukee and Madison, since CityFail fits the Walker/far-right narrative best.

*  Strangle urban transit, too. Hey, suck it up and walk.

*  Suppress the traditionally heavy Democratic vote in cities through mandatory Voter ID and registration restrictions

*  Hammer middle-class city residents, principally in Madison, with collective bargaining restrictions and reductions in take home pay — again, because that’s where many Democratic voters live.

Walker’s coded target in this election, using ginned-up stereotypes, is Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines Jr. wrote a strong defense of Milwaukee as a response to Scott Walker’s overt, anti-Milwaukee campaigning. I posted Hines’ remarks on this blog, and a separate posting at a blog on the Journal Sentinel’s Purple Wisconsin platform.

Maybe only a state like Wisconsin, with such convenient urban targets, could produce a leader like Walker. Maybe only in a time of renewed interest in cities, when urban constituencies seem to be gathering strength and voting power, would this strategy be so deployed so forcefully.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Reinventing Parking outlines the three very different ways parking is typically perceived and how that affects its supply. Streets.mn points to a pernicious “echo chamber” in the traffic engineering profession. And Second Avenue Sagas comments on how overzealous federal safety regulations can hamstring commuter rail.