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Why Do Republicans Fear Cities So Much?

Scott Cooney | Thursday December 2nd, 2010 | 1 Comment

If you take some time to look at demographics, voting patterns, and electoral maps, it’s pretty clear that the red-blue divide is stark and falls along a fairly distinct pattern: cities, where people live and work side by side with people of multiple other races, personalities, and lifestyles tend to be dark blue. Suburbs, where people tend to live segregated by income (“Homes from the $100-200’s this way, homes from $300+ that way…”), tend to be solidly red.

But the fear and anger which many Republicans (and the old economy companies they rely on for campaign contributions) have of cities, city planning, and urban policies runs much deeper than that. Take, for example, when Tea Party darling Dan Maes, who won the Republican nod for the Colorado Governor’s race, told Colorado voters they shouldn’t trust his Democratic opponent, Denver’s Mayor John Hickenlooper, because the latter had made Denver a more bicycle friendly city, infamously positing that  bicycling was a gateway drug to communism. Nevermind that it’s really just the best way to get around a city.

I’ve often wondered why the environmental, economic, and public health policies that cities implement are so vehemently criticized by Republicans (who otherwise tend to favor local control), when on the ground in those cities, those policies make so much sense. Take two recent policy changes in San Francisco, for example. One is the recent passage of the “be healthy food or be toy free” Happy Meal law.

The policy is aimed at helping to curb obesity, ADD, early onset diabetes and other childhood health issues by requiring that any meal sold at restaurants in San Francisco with a toy included must meet some health standards. In other words, McDonald’s can’t include a toy in a Happy Meal full of processed, fatty, sugary “foods” like their French Fries, high-fructose corn syrup drinks, or their burgers which are likely so full of preservatives that they don’t degrade even after 12 months left out at room temperature. But there is absolutely nothing in the law that says McDonald’s must stop giving out toys. It’s only that they have to give those toys away with meals that consist of actual food, meeting with certain health standards for fats, cholesterol, sodium, and the like.

What’s not to like about that law? The problem, according to Republican thinking, is that this is a free market…why shouldn’t MickeyD’s be allowed to put toys in their Happy Meals if they feel like it? Missing the big picture, of course, this line of thinking completely externalizes the after effects and the costs the public must bear as a result of this ‘free market’. Externalities are the main difference between the green economy and the old, brown, polluting, economy.

Tomorrow, I’ll write up a post about another law that Republican Sean Elsbernd (San Francisco Supervisor) calls another example of “the long arm of San Francisco” trying to solve a national problem. It’s got a similar theme–externalized costs borne by the public that really should be the responsibility of the company that created them. And it’s another solid example of shortsightedness, and the cozy relations of the GOP with the top polluting/cost externalizing industries.

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Scott Cooney is author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), which he is giving away for free on his website through the holidays, and Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com

Join Scott on Twitter, Facebook’s Green Business Owner group, or the LinkedIn group by the same name.


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  • Markie McBrayer

    Scott, I think you added some great perspective to the Healthy Meals Incentive Ordinance. My name is Markie McBrayer, and I’m a volunteer at Corporate Accountability International (one of the groups in a coalition of corporate accountability, public health, and food justice that helped pass the measure). Thanks for writing a post that takes a stand on children’s health — it was great. By the way, your point about internalizing the externalities is really insightful and doesn’t get touched on a lot. If you want to learn more about the ordinance and our campaign, you should visit our website: http://ValueTheMeal.org. Thanks again!