Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama Talks Cities with Mayors

Harry Moroz has the dispatch from Barack Obama's speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an event that John McCain has decided to avoid:

Senator Obama used Senator McCain’s absence from the meeting to draw distinctions between what he called his willingness to partner with cities and Senator McCain’s “other” priorities. He attacked Senator McCain’s criticism of the COPS program and Community Development Block Grant funding, both of which are major priorities for mayors. Later, he cited Senator McCain’s opposition to funding for the Highway Trust Fund (which is quickly being depleted of funds) and took a shot at Senator McCain’s opposition to funding for levies. Both he and Senator McCain were appalled by the devastation from floods in the Midwest, Senator Obama assured us, but McCain would could not truly understand the devastation because of his opposition to such funding.

Obama’s final shot took aim at Senator McCain’s tiresome talk about pork barrel spending. There is a difference, Obama suggested, between pork barrel spending and national priorities.

Obama called for a new vision of cities, one that recognizes the growth of both cities and metro areas (here he cited statistics generated by Brookings and later mentioned the head of the think tank’s Metropolitan Policy Program, Bruce Katz, by name). Strong cities, Senator Obama suggested, are the backbone of regional growth and regional growth the source of national prosperity.

None of the programs that Barack Obama is promising the Mayors to fund is a left-wing, Great Society or New Deal outlier. The Community Develop Block Grant program was created by Republicans as an alternative to domestic welfare-type initiatives. COPS was a product of the Clinton presidency, and thus influenced by conservative leadership wings of the Democratic Party. Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush I raised taxes for the highway trust fund, so it must have been a high priority for them.

We've shifted too far right if such modest programs for our urban areas generate any opposition. They are promises that Obama should be accountable for, but they are not boldly progressive. They are merely an acceptable start.

As for Obama's drawing a distinction between pork barrel spending and national priorities: hopefully Tennessee Congressman and Obama supporter, Jim Cooper (who has sworn off all earmarks in the recent past) is listening to him on that point. It would be a shame if the next President was more of an advocate for programs that support Metro Nashville than our own elected representative.

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