Thomas Edsall: "Can Hillary Manage Her Unruly Coalition?" (Obama Is Moving Urban Voters To White Liberal Neighborhoods)
August 19, 2016, 07:51 AM
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NYT columnist Tom Edsall writes:
Can Hillary Manage Her Unruly Coalition?

Thomas B. Edsall AUG. 18, 2016

Two adjoining communities — Baltimore City and Baltimore County — show us how hard it is for the Democratic Party to reconcile the interests of its upscale wing with those of its lower-income wing.

For more than half a century, there has been sustained tension between Baltimore County, which is 62.8 percent white and has a median household income of $68,156, and Baltimore city, which is 62.9 percent African-American and has a median household income of $42,579.

… In 1992, in the wake of an influx of educated, higher income professionals, immigrants and minorities, the county began to trend Democratic. In this respect, the county has followed in the path of dense, close-in suburbs across the nation. In 2012, Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney 220,322 to 154,908 in Baltimore County. Baltimore city, on the other hand, never stopped being a Democratic bastion and this continued in 2012, when city voters supported Obama over Romney 221,478 to 28,171.

Even though both the city and the county currently have working Democratic majorities, they represent two different factions of the party. The tensions between the two Maryland jurisdictions, city and county, reflect in microcosm the larger social and economic issues the Clinton campaign faces nationally and which any Democratic White House is sure to face going forward.

At the moment, one of the major sources of conflict between Baltimore city and Baltimore County is the issue of affordable housing.

On Dec. 12, the Baltimore Sun published a 6,100 word story — quite long for a newspaper — by Doug Donovan that describes how the city Housing Authority, complying with a federal court order, has been quietly buying homes over the past decade in prosperous suburbs to use as public housing.

The intensity of the conflict between city and county interests was reflected in the covert tactics used by the city to provide housing for low-income residents on a regional basis, outside city limits.

“We did it very much under the radar,” Amy Wilkinson, the city authority’s fair housing director told The Sun. “We met very early on with the county executives. They understood we had to do it. Their request was to make sure [the homes] are really scattered and make sure we do it quietly.”

The city hired a nonprofit developer, Homes for America, to make the purchases on its behalf. The contract specified that the firm make sure that the acquired homes not be “identifiable as subsidized housing to minimize objections from the surrounding community.”

The program has not been cheap: $19 million to purchase nearly 60 homes, all but 12 outside city limits, and annual rent subsidies of $51 million in 2015 alone. The Sun reported that almost all the beneficiaries are African-American families headed by single mothers.

The reaction to the Sun story was immediate. “City housing program stirs fears in Baltimore County,” Donovan wrote in a follow-up piece.

Veronica Walters, 73, who lives in Catonsville, a middle class, largely white Baltimore County neighborhood with a median household income of $77,165, told Donovan. “We have worked for years in order to have a house in the county, and the government is pushing people out here,” she said, before adding:

“They don’t deserve to have what my family worked hard for. It’s a shame we didn’t know about this ahead of time. I would have been right there protesting.”

I asked Donovan about the response to his story. He wrote back:

“The reaction from many was outright racist. From phone calls to emails to comments on the article. Baltimore County has avoided any substantive adherence to the Fair Housing Act for decades and is only now being held accountable by HUD, but just barely.”

Having the government drop a welfare mother and her brood on your block might not damage your long term property values … or it might devastate them if your block tips black.

In the 1970s, Oak Park, IL imposed a surreptitious Black-a-Block maximum quota on realtors to prevent Oak Park tipping into all black ruin like the adjoining Austin neighborhood in Chicago. Allowing communities to set a Black-a-Block maximum quota would do a lot to reassure homeowners, but I’ve never heard it discussed.

Earlier this month, the anger among residents of the county over the surreptitious expansion into the county of the city’s public housing program emerged in force.

On Aug. 1, the County Council voted 6 to 1 against legislation that would have required landlords to accept federal subsidized Section 8 vouchers as payment for rent.

A caller to a Baltimore talk radio show, identified only as “Horace,” reflected the hostility of white county residents to the Section 8 program. “That is one of the worst programs, this voucher program, because I know personally that a lot of these young ladies have 5, 6 kids,” Horace said, according to an audio tape of the show. “They destroy neighborhoods, look at Liberty Road. They destroy neighborhoods, all up and down Liberty Road.” Liberty Road is a main artery that runs from the city into the county.

“What I really took away from this was the fact that in order to get subsidized housing into the suburbs, you have to be sneaky about it,” Robert Strupp, the executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a liberal fair housing advocacy group, told The Sun:

“Because if they found out about it in advance, they wouldn’t let it happen. That’s the sign to me that discrimination still exists. It’s classic Nimbyism. That’s today’s reality just as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.” …

A general problem faced by liberal social policies is that they are all based on 1960s assumptions about the immense size of the white Baby Boom majority into which minority problem people can be diluted at little harm to individual members of the majority.

The fundamental problem with progressive social policies in 2016 is that the country is running out of white kids to use to absorb the problems of minority kids.

We could charitably call this the Tragic Paradox of Liberalism: the liberal solution has always been to integrate the problem minorities with the majority, but to get the political power to do that, liberals have systematically set about reducing the majority to a minority, which means that their traditional solutions won’t work anymore, even in theory.

The flare-up over affordable housing in Baltimore County is just the kind of controversy Democratic Party leaders dread because it pits Democrats against Democrats. And it is also just the kind of controversy Republicans thrive upon, as exemplified by Donald Trump’s speech Tuesday night in West Bend, Wisconsin, a white community 40 miles north of Milwaukee, where police have been battling rioters.

Trump told his supporters that Clinton is “peddling the narrative of cops as a racist force in our society” and shares “responsibility for the unrest.” Trump went even further:

“She is against the police, believe me. You know it and I know it, and guess what? She knows it.”

The problems for Democrats on matters of race and housing subsidies are not confined to Baltimore. In Westchester County, just north of New York City, an ongoing battle over the court-ordered construction of affordable housing has played a key role in the election and re-election of a Republican county executive — in a suburban jurisdiction that, in presidential elections, has become increasingly Democratic.

It is this kind of conflict that the Clinton campaign is determined to avoid. Clinton’s staff has repeatedly declined requests for her views on assertive government policies that require suburbs to provide affordable housing for those with low or moderate incomes.

Such policies include court orders under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, along with enforcement of the June 2015 Housing and Urban Development regulation known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which mandates that local governments produce plans providing for increased integration by race and class.

As she attempts to draw votes from both of these wings of the Democratic Party, Clinton has good reason for caution. The town of Chappaqua in Westchester County, where the Clintons own a home, happens to be located in the midst of an affordable housing conflict I have written about before.

Rob Astorino, the Republican county executive, takes great joy in capitalizing on the issue. In July 2015, Astorino pointedly held a news conference in front of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s home, using affordable housing as a political cudgel to demand:

“Now, I have a question for Hillary Clinton, who’s in her home today right behind me: does she think she lives in a discriminatory town? I don’t. Does she think that the Obama administration is being very unfair in attacking her own community? I do. But we need to know where Hillary Clinton stands on this issue and she needs to speak up today.”

Clinton did not respond, nor did she reply to requests for local comment from the Westchester media.

There is no way the Clinton campaign wants housing integration to become a central issue of the 2016 campaign. …

In its position paper — the “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda” — the Clinton campaign refers to potentially controversial housing policies in carefully chosen language:

“Clinton will increase support for affordable rental housing in the areas that need it most and encourage communities to implement land use strategies that make it easier to build affordable rental housing near good jobs.”

In an essay recently published on the CNN website, “How To Make Housing Fair in America,” Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, was somewhat more explicit:

“We’ll increase rental assistance for low-income families, and help families who receive support choose from a wide range of neighborhoods to live in.”

I asked Paul Jargowsky, a professor of public policy at Rutgers who has studied housing segregation, to assess the Clinton proposal. He replied by email that he generally agreed with most of the Clinton platform, but:

“The agenda as stated does not address the fundamental problem that is at the root of the concentration of poverty — the ability of local governments to effectively exclude lower-income people from their communities through zoning and restrictive land use policies.”

The controversies generated by the Trump campaign have pushed offstage many of the conflicts that divide the contemporary upstairs-downstairs Democratic coalition, including housing integration. But the Republican Party has been most successful when it has been able to drive a wedge between competing Democratic constituencies, each with its own legitimate interest — tax payers versus tax beneficiaries, voters who resent the regulatory power of government versus voters who welcome it, environmentalists versus the construction trades, those seeking autonomy and self-expression versus those struggling paycheck to paycheck; investors and property owners versus those without wealth or assets.

Every recent Democratic president, from Jimmy Carter through Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, has fought to hold this bifurcated coalition together.

Insofar as the Democratic Party is no longer a class-based alliance with common economic goals, how can it resolve the conflicts between its more privileged and less privileged wings? …

The question is what binds these two groups together in a single party, and is the bond strong enough for that party to endure and prevail?

The answer appears to be: pretty much the same thing that keeps people on the same page in 1984: having to somebody to hate. Instead of hating Emmanuel Goldstein, Democrats are constantly reminded to hate Haven Monahan.

[Comment at Unz.com]