Cities deserve respect from candidates

The presidential candidates have been spewing plenty lately, from both sides of the political spectrum.

Stop the hate.

The presidential candidates have been spewing plenty lately, from both sides of the political spectrum. They have plenty of hate for each other, of course, but they also have plenty left over for cities.

To start with, there was Republican vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin telling a crowd in North Carolina that some small towns were the “real America” and the “pro-American” parts of the country.

Wasn’t liberty born in Philadelphia? Most cultural institutions are found in cities. Whether you are looking for the Constitution Center or the Phillies, you’ll find it here. The same could be said of other large cities – it’s where people in the surrounding regions find their sense of cultural identity.

We need look no further than the Phillies for evidence. When the Phillies won, more than a million people showed up for the parade. Quite a few of them were from outside the city lines.

Obama hasn’t said anything this egregious about big cities, but there are more subtle attempts to romanticize small towns. His widely used symbol evokes a sun rising behind a field.

“Not all candidates have evoked this image, but many have,” said David Farber, a professor of history at Temple. “Ronald Reagan probably pushed this image harder than any other candidate in recent memory in his successful attempt to argue that America had to go back to the ideals of a cherished past to create a better future.”

Trying to mimic Reagan’s successful tactics is understandable – either candidate would love to win the way Reagan did. But big-city dwellers rarely seem to object blatant small-town pandering, even though they make up the majority. We are no longer a rural population, but we cling to the memory of it as if it will give us a better moral compass.

“Many Americans still have warm feelings for an idealized small-town America. In some ways, this dates back to the Jeffersonian ideal of the independent, self-sufficient
yeoman farmer,” Farber said.

I can understand the hesitation for people to accept cities as moral centers. After all, cities tend to have more crime, more homelessness and more liberalism, none of which strike average citizens as particularly moral. But on the same token, the Bible Belt suffers a higher divorce rate than anywhere in the country but Nevada.

So give cities some of the respect they deserve. They give us so many institutions and cultural icons, it’s simply neglectful not to.

Stephen Zook can be reached at

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