Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Liberal Portland?

I came across a comment on Portland Transit that got me thinking.  Written by a self-described opponent of density in the city, the author claimed that such opposition did not imply they were right-wingers.  As evidence, they pointed to the overwhelming popularity of the Democratic Party in neighborhoods which had also taken strong stands against density.  I think the answer to that is a well-worn disclaimer:  Past experience may not be indicative of future results.

Corey Robin described conservatism as,
… a deliberate, conscious effort to preserve or recall "those forms of experience which can no longer be had in an authentic way."  Conservatism "becomes conscious and reflective when  other ways of life and thought appear on the scene, against which it is compelled to take up arms in the ideological struggle."  Where the traditionalist can take objects of desire for granted- he can enjoy them as if they are at hand because they are at hand- the conservative cannot.  He seeks to enjoy them precisely as they are being- or have been- taken away.  If he hopes to enjoy them again, he must contest their divestment in the public realm…  As soon as those objects enter the medium of political speech, they cease to be items of lived experience and become incidents of an ideology.  They get wrapped in a narrative of loss- in which the revolutionary or reformist plays a necessary part- and presented in a program of recovery.  What was tacit becomes articulate, what was fluid becomes formal, what was practice becomes polemic.
Movements to erect barriers to ethnic and economic diversity in Portland (parking requirements), and to make living in and maintaining the past a condition of residency (neighborhood preservation districts), embody the essence of conservatism.  They are fear of the new, fear of strangers, and fear of change writ large.  If Portlanders embrace such causes I think a political shift to reflect conservative values is inevitable.   

To pick on the most vivid example, Amanda Fritz cannot continue demanding a housing density of 20 units per acre in urban growth boundary expansion areas where infrastructure and amenities are by definition non-existent, while at the same time fighting to preserve a density of less than 7 units per acre across most of inner east Portland.  Either she changes her tune or she destroys her credibility so much that functionally she says nothing at all.  Likewise if you think it is impossible to live without a car and therefore parking is necessary for a basic quality of life, why fund public transit at all?  A more effective use of public resources would be to ensure that everyone simply had a car.

One way or another, our political actions will align with our political values.  Our "talk" and our "walk" can't go in different directions indefinitely.

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