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The Daily Caller scoop of President Obama’s 2007 speech at Hampton University failed to live up to the hype. Its mistake is that it was pre-announced on Drudge. You shouldn’t raise expectations like that unless you have an out-and-out bombshell. But this video is not a bombshell. Obama was angry and talked in a black dialect to which he is not accustomed. But we expect that of politicians. As others have pointed out, Obama’s strike against the suburbs was the most newsworthy portion of the speech. Unfortunately, the idea contained in equating suburbs with bad is rarely discussed.
Obama told the largely black crowd in Virginia:
We need additional federal public transportation dollars flowing to the highest need communities. We don’t need to build more highways out in the suburbs. We should be investing in minority-owned businesses, in our neighborhoods, so people don’t have to travel from miles away.
The problem here is that Obama juxtaposes “we” with “taxpayers”. And it happens to be the case that the suburbs are teeming with net tax *payers*. If the cities were being gutted of the poor who then moved out to the suburbs, the only complaints would be for the lost of vibrancy and culture. City planners would be happy at this development. So when Obama says that “we need to do this,” he’s basically saying that the very same people who are moving to the suburbs need to pay for the negative externalities left behind when they leave the city center. Community organizers can’t sell a good explanation for why this must happen, so they’ll tinker with local policies in order to capture tax money and/or limit the ability of a city’s citizens to leave it for another nearby town.
Stanley Kurtz has worked to shed light on what he believes is Obama’s radical anti-suburb agenda – a public policy strategy called “regionalism” that Obama encountered in his days as a community organizer. He writes:
We also see here that Obama doesn’t want to build more highways out in the suburbs. That’s news to most, and there’s a lot more going on in that line than racial code. Obama’s hostility to suburbs stands behind some of his most transformative, yet least well-known, policy initiatives. To this very left-leaning president, the trouble with suburbs is ultimately a matter of class, not race. At any rate, suburban swing voters ought to wake up to Obama’s anti-suburban policies before they reelect a president who plans some very nasty surprises for them in his second term.
Kurtz previously wrote:
President Obama is not a fan of America’s suburbs. Indeed, he intends to abolish them. With suburban voters set to be the swing constituency of the 2012 election, the administration’s plans for this segment of the electorate deserve scrutiny. Obama is a longtime supporter of “regionalism,” the idea that the suburbs should be folded into the cities, merging schools, housing, transportation, and above all taxation. To this end, the president has already put programs in place designed to push the country toward a sweeping social transformation in a possible second term. The goal: income equalization via a massive redistribution of suburban tax money to the cities.
Given that over half of Americans live in suburbs, I think it would be news to many of them that Obama holds a generally unfavorable view of suburban life. Many suburbanites themselves are critical of life there, but community organizers suggest that a choice to live in the suburbs is a strike against social justice. At best, regionalists think that suburbanites are destroying the environment for the sake of good schools for their kids or for safe, affordable housing. At worst, Obama believes that the suburbs are prime examples of the deep-seated institutional racism that exists in this country. From a purely strategic political standpoint, asking Obama how he feels about suburbs and suburbanization might score points for Romney.
It fits in with my post from earlier today about elite public high schools. If the parents of New York City’s gifted children take their talents elsewhere e.g. to the suburbs, regionalism would tinker with the tax code to get those same families to pay for the city’s poorer education outcomes. Of course, community organizers would then clamor that the loss of funding is greater than the loss of brainpower or positive peer pressure that activists currently hope to sidle minority students up next to. All this stems from a radical communitarian concept whereby the local government polity has a claim on the individual citizen. Suburbanites owe duty to the city for their privilege which they then extracted from the city center, thus gutting it of the tax base it requires to survive.
It fits the two different visions held by conservatives and liberals. Liberals presume that the community grants privilege to the citizen. Conservatives presume that the community is a conglomeration of citizens and that it derives its good or bad qualities from them. The polity – national, state, or local government – is meant to serve its citizens, not the other way around.