The Curious Case of Mitt and the Apartment

The Curious Case of Mitt and the Apartment

Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo notices something odd in Mitt Romney’s health insurance rhetoric. The uninsured, in Romney’s world, always live in apartments. “We don’t have people who become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance,” he told the Columbus Dispatch, after using similar language a few days earlier on Sixty Minutes.

Curiously, it’s when Romney talks about health care that he fixates on apartments. If housing is the topic, he forgets them. Asked by CBS to state his urban agenda, he dodged the question entirely and called for corporate tax cuts to stimulate manufacturing. And his Republican platform veers into open hostility to apartment houses. It denounces the Obama administration for “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”

As I observed here last winter, urban life itself has become a target of right-wing demonology. The Republican National Committee saw fit in January to speak out in defense of “the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices.”

This sort of hostility to cities, and to apartments in particular, has deep roots in American culture. The Supreme Court, in its 1927 decision legalizing zoning, wrote that “very often the apartment house is a mere parasite.” Tenants, said the president of Harvard University a few years earlier, are “a class of nomads that have no stable footing in the town.”

But this year’s wave of anti-urbanism may be the future and not the past of American politics. As the country’s demographics change, time is running out on the half-century-old Republican strategy of appealing to racial and sexual identity. “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

What could replace the old racial appeals is an identity politics of economic and social class. If the numbers don’t work anymore when you set whites against minorities, try setting suburban homeowners against city dwellers. It’s not at all clear how well that will go over—younger Americans are turning away from their elders’ love for cars and lawns—but a purely economic message of straight John Galt would be a loser for sure.

That’s where Romney was headed when he spoke—in a discussion of electoral strategy—of writing off the 47 percent. Those folks without insurance, he wants his voters to think, they’re not like you. They live in apartments and don’t drive to work. Mitt’s job is not to worry about these people, and you shouldn’t either.