Republican Disaster Watch

Michael Barone offers his thoughts on the Democrats’ massive win in Denny Hastert’s old seat.

Barack Obama cut a spot for Foster, and his home state popularity does suggest that Republicans could lose other Illinois open seats in November—the 11th and 18th districts—and Democrats could fare well in seats Republicans held marginally in 2006—the 6th, 10th, and 15th. And that Obama, at least at his current levels of popularity, could help Democratic House challengers elsewhere.

Demographically, the 14th is the fastest-growing Illinois district. Kane County, Hastert’s home at the edge of the Chicago metropolitan area, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. This suggests that an Obama-led Democratic Party could be fully competitive in the exurbs, as the Mark Warner- and Tim Kaine-led Virginia Democratic Party has been in the exurbs of Washington, D.C.

This reminds me of the ongoing dispute over which Democrat will be easier for John McCain to beat in November. Perhaps Obama will hemorrhage working class voters, perhaps Clinton will repel independents. All I know is that the suburbs are increasingly hostile terrain for Republicans, and America is a fundamentally suburban country. This is despite the fact that the vocal, influential segments of the center-left are turning against the suburban way of life in quite explicit terms, usually though certainly not exclusively on environmental grounds.

I’m reminded of a remark Michael Bloomberg made during his first mayoral term — he said that New York city was a “luxury good,” and that New Yorkers should expect to pay a premium in the form of high taxes. What a wonderfully illustrative “let them eat cake” moment, and I say this as a great admirer of Bloomberg. There’s an obvious sense in which Bloomberg was right. Cities are engines of wealth creation, which is we people are willing to navigate the traffic, the crowds, and the high prices. It’s worth it, generally speaking. But to what extent are we willing to declare the suburban way of life yet another “luxury good”? I sympathize with Ed Glaeser when he calls for a a level playing field for cities, but there is a reason we’ve subsidized the suburbs in various ways: they reflect a lot of deeply and widely held middle-class aspirations. The trouble is that the subsidies involved are spread around in an inefficient, inegalitarian, often incoherent way. This is a complicated set of issues, and I’m not entirely certain as to where I stand. But I certainly think Republicans should continue to think seriously about how they can position themselves as the defenders of the suburban way of life.