Urban Liberalism’s Bodycount?

Is urban liberalism to blame for New Orleans’s problems? Please.

John Buntin

It’s no surprise that conservatives would resist Democratic demands to relaunch the Great Society in the wake of Katrina. Such skepticism may well be justified. But the emerging conservative counterargument — namely, the claim that the problems of New Orleans reflect the flaws of urban liberalism — isn’t just annoying, it’s outrageous. I point you first to David Brooks’s Sunday column. Here’s the offending graf:

This is an effort to transform the gulf region, which had become a disaster zone of urban liberalism. (Emphasis added.) All around the South, cities are booming, but New Orleans never did. All around the country, crime was dropping, but in New Orleans it was rising. Immigrants were flowing across the land in search of opportunity, but as Joel Kotkin has observed, few were interested in New Orleans.

This morning, Joel Kotkin himself piled on as well:

The flooding in New Orleans has exposed this record of liberal neglect in the starkest terms. New Orleans has had Democratic mayors for decades. While they’ve created a first-class tourist attraction, they’ve also produced a city with third-world inequality.

This just blows my mind. Generally speaking, the field of urban politics/policy is where I am most sympathetic to neoconservative ideas. I largely agree with its critique of the War on Poverty (largely). I think many ideas dear to urban liberals (rent control anyone?) are bad ones. I share conservatives’ concerns about unintended consequences. But this claim is too much. New Orleans is not John Lindsay’s New York City. Its problems really are, to a very considerable extent, the legacy of racism. This should be obvious. What’s next? Are conservatives ready to start arguing that the problems of, say, the Mississippi Delta (my native region) are also a reflection of liberalism? Please. Liberal solutions aren’t necessarily the right ones, but let’s not try to blame poverty in New Orleans on the only people who have ever tried to do anything about it.