The media encourages the GOP to challenge Dem lazy fat bastards.
It’s officially a trend: The Philadelphia media establishment really, really wants the city’s Republicans to get off their duff and start challenging the Democrats for control of City Hall.
In the span of just a few days last week, pieces appeared in Philadelphia magazine, the Daily News and the Inquirer all making exactly the same point: Philly’s status as a one-party town has made Democrats fat, lazy and barely able to provide good government—and Republicans have long been too content with scraps from the patronage table to give the Dems a real run for their money.
“Politics is supposed to be adversarial. In America’s two-party system, the assumption is that both parties try to win,” Philadelphia magazine’s Jason Fagone wrote. “If that assumption breaks down—if one party unilaterally disarms, as it has in Philadelphia—strange things start to happen. You end up with a Jurassic power structure, populated by large, lazy creatures incapable of adapting to new climates, like diseased stegosauruses whaling at each other in the hot sun. You end up with a broken city.”
Rob Gleason, chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP, was even harsher when talking to the Inky ’s Kevin Ferris.
“Not having a viable (Republican) operation allows the Democrats to run wild ... and not be accountable,” Gleason told Ferris. “So you wind up with a dysfunctional school system and city government, and the city becomes a giant stone dragging Pennsylvania down into the Delaware River.”
While it’s bizarre to see the local media pimping for a GOP resurgence—and for a specific candidate, Al Schmidt, who is running for city controller—the critics have a point. There’s only one problem: Bad as the Democrats are, the Republicans would probably be worse at running Philly.
Part of this is temperamental: Republicans just don’t like big cities. The state and national GOP have invested a ton of time and energy in recent decades talking about a “real America” that looks a lot like the mostly white, sparsely populated small towns where they do best—this is why the otherwise-ridiculous Sarah Palin has such strong support among conservatives—and ever since Richard Nixon they’ve done it while attacking the “coastal elites.” Guess what, Philly? You are the coastal elite!
The other part is ideological: Small government anti-tax “don’t tread on me” libertarianism might make sense out in those sparsely populated areas where Republicans collect their votes. But big cities like Philadelphia need big government—and a strong social safety net—to provide all the many services that hold the town together. Think Mayor Nutter is a villain for cutting back library hours and closing some pools for the summer? At least he seemed to have some public regrets about those actions; that’s exactly the kind of stuff that fills the GOP with glee.
Now it’s possible that a strain of “Philadelphia Republicanism” might emerge here, one that combines market-driven approaches to governance with a love of city life and is committed to a governance agenda broader than tax-cutting and God-loving. That’s precisely what has happened in big Democratic cities where Republicans have managed to grab a win or two in recent decades. Think Michael Bloomberg in New York. Hell, even Rudy Giuliani has gay friends.
In fact, we know exactly what a successful Philadelphia Republican would look like: Arlen Specter.
Specter has many, many faults. But until recently he was a successful Philadelphia Republican—until Pat Toomey and his cohort of conservatives chased him out for straying too far from party orthodoxy on taxes, unions and abortion. The Republican Party would have to become more ideologically diverse to truly compete in Philadelphia. Right now, it’s becoming less so. If Republicans already believe Philly is a “giant stone dragging Pennsylvania down,” do you think they’d have much tolerance for the compromises Philadelphia Republicans would have to make to be successful here?
“As a wholly owned subsidiary of the over-promising and underperforming Democratic Party, Philadelphia is failing,” Stu Bykofsky wrote in the Daily News . And yeah, he’s absolutely right: Theoretically it would be great if Democrats had a little competition to run City Hall. But today’s real-world Republican Party doesn’t really like or look like Philly; how could it possibly hope to govern? ■