Democrats 36,000, Part 3.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Nov. 13 2002 7:08 PM

Democrats 36,000, Part 3

The Riddle of the Ideopolis.

Jeez, here it is Wednesday already, and the Democratic majority predicted by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira still hasn't emerged! Chatterbox must learn to be patient. In the meantime, having previously examined the failure of the Emerging Democratic Majority to show up on Nov. 5, and the shaky prospect that any future EDM will capture the white working class, Chatterbox will now attempt to solve the Riddle of the Ideopolis.

Advertisement

"Ideopolis" is what Judis and Teixeira call any metropolitan region with a nerdy postindustrial economy. Among the best-known ideopolises are California's Silicon Valley, Massachusetts' Route 128, and North Carolina's Research Triangle. But there are, Judis and Teixeira point out, scads of less well-known ideopolises, including the counties surrounding Madison, Wis., Nashville, Tenn., and Portland, Ore. (Most of the ideopolises Judis and Teixeira examine were culled from this report by Ross. C. DeVol, director of regional and demographic studies for the Milken Institute.) Ideopolises now account for 43.7 percent of the vote. They interest Judis and Teixeira because they're heavily Democratic.

It's no surprise that the NPR-listening, Passat-driving brainworkers in these ideopolises vote Democratic. Nor is it a surprise that members of ethnic minorities who live in ideopolises vote Democratic. But it is, Judis and Teixeira note, a surprise to learn that members of the white working class who live in ideopolises also vote pretty reliably Democratic. Thus the Riddle of the Ideopolis: Why does the white working class lean Democratic in the ideopolises but lean Republican everywhere else?

Judis and Teixeira offer the cultural explanation that ideopolises are not riven by class difference; in such places, "the white working class seems to embrace the same values as professionals." As a result, Republican appeals based on bigotry, resentment, love of guns, and hatred of abortion "have largely fallen on deaf ears." This absence of class warfare is probably real to some extent, though it can't possibly be as true as the technology industry's utopian PR would have us believe. There's got to be something else. What is it?

Chatterbox suspects the ultimate answer is economic. What is the engine that drives economic growth in an ideopolis? The university. Universities are basically socialist institutions. Chatterbox refers here not to the New Left-flavored politics of many academics, but rather to the fact that universities are heavily subsidized by the federal government, and often owned outright by a state government. Collectively, colleges and universities in the United States take in more money from the federal and state government than they do from tuition and fees. Even private colleges and universities get more than 16 percent of their total funding from the government. Some of this taxpayer money even gets funneled (in the form of scholarships) to low-income people! Universities are blatantly statist and redistributionist, and you'll find 'em in every state of the union. Does Rush Limbaugh know about this?

He does, of course, as does every other free-market-loving conservative in America. But except for a few quirky renegades (like Hillsdale College, which takes a principled stand against accepting federal dollars), nobody makes a big deal about this affront to Adam Smith. It's just an accepted fact.

Now, the mere fact that a place is heavily dependent on government spending doesn't tilt its politics to the left. (If it did, Alaska would have gone to Ralph Nader in 2000.) But when a community is not only dependent on government spending, but is also witness to how that government spending can create enormous wealth in industries such as biotechnology and computers, that likely makes members of that community less suspicious about government than they might otherwise be. They may even come to think government represents a positive good. An ideopolis's dependence on government spending, and its ability to spin research dollars into gold, is obvious to anyone who lives in such a place, from the CEO of a software company down to the janitor who dusts off his chair at night. And that, Chatterbox submits, is the real reason that the ideopolises' white working class votes Democratic.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 30 2014 7:27 PM The American Horror Story: Freak Show Podcast, Episode 4 The “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” edition.