Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Well, that didn’t take long. Only six columns into his career as New York Times Op-Ed conservative and John Tierney is already bidding to take over David Brooks’ position as reasonable crackpot. Or crackpot moderate.

Meaning that the conservative Brooks tends to come across as reasonable in 95 percent of what he writes, and it’s only until you discover that remaining, unsettling 5 percent that you realize your comfort level was built over a catapult. Tierney has even followed the typical Brooks model of leaving the crackpot idea for the end of a column — predictable enough that it’s almost become like Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown — so your head winds up spinning as you reassess everything you just read. This part is less like “Peanuts” and more like “The Sixth Sense.”

On Tuesday this was in a column about how liberals were astonished to find out that Laura Bush has a sense of humor, or at least timing good enough to make the jokes of professional writers sound funny, and that the president and his wife are, gosh, just folks like the rest of us.

All well and good until Tierney tries to explain why all us liberals are so shocked by this:

The favorite Democratic explanation is that the red staters are hicks who have been blinded by righteousness, as Thomas Frank argues in “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” He laments that middle-class Kansans are so bamboozled by moral issues like abortion and school prayer that they vote for Republicans even though the Republican tax-cutting policies are against their self-interest.

But middle-class Americans don’t simply cast ballots for Republicans. They also vote with their feet, which is why blue states and old Democratic cities are losing population to red states and Republican exurbs. People are moving there precisely because of economic reasons — more jobs, affordable houses and the lower taxes offered by Republican politicians.

And then the head starts spinning.

It would be nice if Tierney had sourced this assertion, since I was under the impression — because it’s true — that with the notable exception of Connecticut, the states that are most panicked about losing population are in America’s heartland, where things are dull and jobs are scarce.

Since Tierney didn’t source the information, though, all I can do is seek my own sources. For instance, a list of the 25 fastest-declining major U.S. cities from 1990 to 2000 from The New York Times Almanac for 2005 shows that among the top 25 are seven blue states ... and eight red. This hardly seems the decisive political win Tierney describes, although I’d have to give him half credit if he’d broadened his column to explain why “red states and old Republican cities are losing population.” And, of course, where all those people are going and why.

The U.S. Census Bureau agrees that red states will draw a lot of population growth, but this is not because lots of people will move there in disgust over high taxes. The United States is going to experience population growth through emigration. The red states will grow faster because there’s lots of space there. You’re not going to cram many more people into the Northeast.

Massachusetts, for instance, has 809.8 people per square mile, the bureau says. North Dakota has 9.3. And North Dakota, with its 70,700 square miles, could fit almost seven Massachusettses, with their 10,555 square miles each.

Another factor, easily identified by those living deep in Deep Blue Boston or New York, is that people get pushed out of desirable areas by high rents and the subsequent high cost of living and are forced to move farther out to find reasonable rents or home sale prices. Tierney somehow transmutes the inability to buy a home in a desirable area into a political movement, but it’s just movement, and reluctant movement at that.

If you go to an ice cream store with two flavors, chocolate and rum raisin, and the chocolate costs twice as much as the rum raisin and there’s less of it, the chocolate is still going to sell better. The poor will be forced to choose rum raisin; when the chocolate’s gone, everyone will.

That doesn’t mean everyone loves rum raisin ice cream.

Except, possibly, to Tierney.

By the way, that top 25 list from The New York Times Almanac is as follows:

1. Hartford, Conn., lost 13 percent of its population. Blue.
2. St. Louis, Mo., lost 12.2 percent. Red.
3. Gary, Ind., lost 11.9 percent. Red.
4. Baltimore, Md., lost 11.5 percent. Blue.
5. Flint, Mich., lost 11.2 percent. Blue.
6. Buffalo, N.Y., lost 10.8 percent. Blue.
7. Norfolk, Va., lost 10.3 percent. Red.
8. Syracuse, N.Y., lost 10.1 percent. Blue.
9. Pittsburgh, Pa., lost 9.5 percent. Blue.
10. Cincinnati, Ohio, lost 9 percent. Red.
11. Dayton, Ohio, lost 8.7 percent. Red.
12. Birmingham, Ala., lost 8.7 percent. Red.
13. Detroit, Mich., lost 7.5 percent. Blue.
14. Lansing, Mich., lost 6.4 percent. Blue.
15. Jackson, Miss., lost 6.3 percent. Red.
16. Toledo, Ohio, lost 5.8 percent. Red.
17. Washington, D.C., lost 5.7 percent. Blue.
18. Cleveland, Ohio, lost 5.4 percent. Red.
19. New Haven, Conn., lost 5.2 percent. Blue.
20. Rochester, N.Y., lost 5.1 percent. Blue.
21. Milwaukee, Wis., lost 5 percent. Blue.
22. Louisville, Ky., lost 4.8 percent. Red.
23. Erie, Pa., lost 4.6 percent. Blue.
24. Warren, Mich., lost 4.6 percent. Blue.
25. Savannah, Ga., lost 4.4 percent. Red.

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