How Good Are Democrats at Helping Cities?

Consider the chart below:



Has had only Democratic mayors since

Last time a Republican was mayor




Washington, D.C.



New Orleans




Of course these examples are cherry picked, but they certainly do demonstrate some dangerous myopia.  One could argue that there are plenty of cities historically run by Democrats that have always had stable success, and I would agree.  Colorado and New England, for example, are full of such places.

But that’s not my point.  It’s not enough to show that strong populations can be primarily liberal.  Since the Democratic platform–and definitely the popular appeal it tries to campaign on–is that their policies are good for the poor, the “disenfranchised,” the lower class, isn’t it fair to check that track record?  Shouldn’t places run exclusively by Democrats be able to maintain prior success, or turn around problems those cities have had?  If things have gotten bad–awful–after 50-100 years of solid rule, shouldn’t this say something critical of liberal ideas?

One can’t say that these cities have systemic problems too deep for Democratic leaders to fix or be responsible for, because that’s precisely what Democratic leaders always claim to be able to do–fix the problems of the needy.  In Detroit, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., they have catastrophically failed.

Mayors are not solely responsible for the success of a municipality, but such permanent legacies as Democrats enjoy in these three cities suggests an entrenched mindset that surely pervades all offices and areas of civic life.

To thwart my thesis here one couldn’t just find flourishing cities run by Democrats for decades, one would have to find cities that had been in the depths of poverty and crime for years, and which a series of Democratic leaders were able to turn around and maintain for at least a generation.  Or the opposite would be instructive, too–cities whose longstanding success was destroyed by a dynasty of new Republican leaders.

But I think the examples in my chart above make the case better than any other examples could: all three were fantastically wonderful cities in the past, and all three have sunk into the swamps of misery and stagnated there for decades now, thanks to the liberal leadership they’ve strangely embraced for generations.

11 comments on “How Good Are Democrats at Helping Cities?

  1. Take New Orleans. A predominantly black, poor city, whose mayors have been Democrats, especially since the sides somehow switched so that Dems were campaigning for ending Jim Crow, while the GOP was against ending it.

    It is true, that Dems before the 1950’s were the main figure in keeping the segregation alive and yes, disenfranchising the black and poor population so that the rich land owners would keep their political power. Then the 1930’s happened, and the rust-belt workers noticed that the GOP opposed every workers’ rights enhancements, thus thanks to FDR and a few other players, these suspect socialist ideas of equality and such became the trademark ideas of the Democrats.

    Naturally, People like Truman and then JFK represented the rich and the powerful and weren’t so interested in workers’ rights and equality, but they also figured it is a bit dangerous to have a bunch of young unemployed men around, who’ve fought a war and brought some experience & weapons back home with them, while there was an obvious need for better-educated people for the manufacturing industry.

    The GI bill has been credited as one the greatest equalisers in U.S. history, because it made a lot of sons of farmers, who lost their land in 1930s, well-educated and making a fairly good money. Even those, who weren’t so much into studying benefited from a bit of college, thus giving them better skills and understanding for their manufacturing jobs.

    So, anyway, it was natural for the manufacturing labour plus those who’d been kids in the 1930s and experienced the worst of the Depression to sort of lean toward the Dems. I read a book a year ago that was called “Southern Politics”, which was about how the privileged class in the South managed to keep the black and the poor out of the elections from 1890s to 1950s (published originally 1950 I think, so the last election data was 1949). All of their political manoeuvres were only about that, judging by how their machinations avoided all other political considerations. The big important question for each candidate was the attitude to enfranchising the blacks (and the poor white share-croppers, there being a few of them too in the Carolinas, Va and Tn at least off the top of my head). When Johnson went for for the Civil Rights that was a big deal for the southern blacks (from New Orleans’ perspective), but also blacks in all of US.

    BTW, New Orleans’s and Louisiana’s dysfunctional politics has been interesting in that there have been more no-party rich guys as mayors or other top administrators–then turning criminals–than anywhere else.

    Interestingly, all of those cities have also been predominantly black. DC being an interesting case, as they received a huge black population during the Civil War, and after that, while the political power in City elections was still tightly held by the white Dems who held Southern political power until actually from Nixon, whose election could be seen as a result of a backlash against Dems, plus what with Bobby Kennedy being murdered so that the Dems had no way in this world to get a campaign together. But then, D.C. ain’t a Congressional District, at least Federally.

    (Oliver Stone, who in “Nixon” portrays a logical conspiracy to the 1968 Kennedy murder, so that it was machinated by the GOP Nixon backers from the South, otherwise treats Nixon very kindly. Yes, his well-documented crimes did come up but then as a person he appears to have been quite conflicted, as in versus evil–and I’ll leave his relationship with his mother out of his; he had a bad enough relationship with his father, it seems. A kind of a Captain Ahab of his time?)

    So, to mention Detroit, from where the wealthy fled when the industrialisation took the cities in the rust belt, and middle class left when lots of unemployed blacks started moving into dilapidated formerly middle-class houses. Naturally, it wasn’t just about the skin colour; cities just were left neglected, when it was politically impossible to get anything sensible done. It’s true that it isn’t enough to just give money to people, it makes much more sense to hire them to do something useful, right?

    Look, we’ve been hearing so much about how bad it is when the gov’t meddles in our lives, but our lives can also be pretty damn bad when the gov’t does nothing but channel tax money into building arms that can then be sent to South America, Southern Asia and Middle East (plus Africa–esp. interesting was prolonging the Apartheid by supporting the Afrikaners, because of the lie that they told that ANC was communist during the Cold War. Apartheid was ended two years after the end of Cold War, with which Reagan-Bush had nothing whatsoever to do.).

    Sorry, I just like to let my conjecture fire away, too. It’s interesting to figure different ideas into what happens when, and why. There’s always more to it than I have time and inclination to writes, so have a good Sunday.

  2. Wow–this is a very silly post. You might as well look at the social indices of red states like Mississippi and Alabama and conclude that electing conservatives makes you poor, fat, uneducated, less likely to get married and more likely to die younger.

    And your silliest sentence: “One can’t say that these cities have systemic problems too deep for Democratic leaders to fix or be responsible for, because that’s precisely what Democratic leaders always claim to be able to do–fix the problems of the needy” Hm. I guess you can’t say that Mississippi has structural problems too deep for private enterprise to fix…

    • I have to agree with you, Eric, this post is silly. Just because a democrat is mayor, does not mean that they have complete control over the city. Making effective changes in cities takes cooperation from everyone from the mayor’s office, down to the local school board. Another problem with thi article is that it uses the poverty of cities like New Orleans as an example. I don’t think that being able to prevent a hurricane from decimating most of the South should be in a mayor’s job description.

      • Jack, I said in the OP that the mayor is not the be-all and end-all of local conditions, but dynasties like those I mention are indicative of broader values in these cities and their many leaders, and those are endemic problems.

        New Orleans was a disaster for decades before Hurricane Katrina. Your reference to it is a total red herring.

  3. Eric, you’re completely dodging the point, even though you quoted the most important line–the whole point of the Democratic platform is that they can help poor people, but they have completely failed, no matter how deep their penetration or how long they’ve had to try. What private enterprises in the South have made such claims or tried such pervasive programs for so long as liberals have? You didn’t even try to defend them. That’s revealing.

  4. Do you have an example of an urban area blighted by de-industrialization (a conservative policy), drastic cuts in federal spending for human services (another conservative policy), and the flight of middle and upper class residents to the suburbs (a bipartisan policy) – where a few generations of conservative or libertarian leadership has turned the region into a utopia of economic and social delight?

  5. No, but the wording of your question is loaded; it shows a faulty understanding of conservative ideals–we don’t think it’s government’s job to “fix” things. Your biased caricature of our policies is also unhelpful.

    Better questions are: can you account for the examples in my post? Are there similar, conservative dynasties that have been such major failures?

    • And your post doesn’t show a faulty understanding of liberal ideals – we think the government has a responsibility to pursue policies that provide for the general welfare.

      When you pursue policies that have the effect of pushing millions into poverty, leaving millions without adequate health care, and causing millions of high-paying jobs to leave the country, you can’t blame liberals for the results. The problem with conservative ideas is that they are religious in nature – they are faith-based, not fact-based.

  6. Charles, you begin and end this comment with a priori distortions of what conservatives think–it amounts to no more than an insult. Still, you haven’t even tried to account for the facts in the original post.

    You’re clearly capable of engaging at a serious level, but you’re choosing not to. Please offer something of substance.

    • Your original post was little more than a series of distortions of liberal values, so I responded in kind.

      There are a number of policy changes at the federal level that have exacerbated the plight of America’s cities, and since we have only had conservative government for the last 30 years, those changes were made by conservatives. Conservatives in both parties have adopted certain economic “principles” that have no basis in reality. No matter what destruction these policies cause, the response is always that we need more of the same. Now our nation is in economic decline because of deregulation, privatization, tax reductions for the rich at the expense of 90% of the population, and the concomitant cutbacks in essential services. What is the answer according to conservatives? More tax cuts, more deregulation, more privatization, more cutbacks. That is not a policy based on fact, it is one based on irrational faith.

  7. Wow, it’s amazing how you just perfectly accounted for my point about the failed legacy of entrenched local liberal leadership with your incisive analysis of how an onslaught of more conservative federal policies actually override them!

    Oh, wait, no–you didn’t do that. You just repeated the same insults.

    That’s three strikes, friend. My patience as a host is gone. Leave another baseless, off-topic bit of vitriol as a comment, and I’ll feel free to edit it as I see fit.

    One good thing has come of this exchange–it seems to be proof that, no matter how much free reign liberal ideas have somewhere, when they inevitably fail, there will always be people who will find a way to make excuses and blame conservatives. If the economy’s in the toilet in another fifty years, someone might actually say, “It’s still Bush’s fault”

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