As I get older, I become more convinced of several things. One is that bluegrass is America’s most underrated folk art form. Another is that Sim City is the most important game ever made.
When I was younger and played Sim City 2000 on an eMachine running Windows 98, I learned something very important about urban planning that continues to this day: Build the appropriate infrastructure and a domino effect of commerce and construction will begin to take effect. Need to spruce up an area? Build a train station. Need to improve quality of life? Tear down some abandoned buildings and replace them with parks.
And one of my political fantasies involves something I believe could have realistically happened; Barack Obama — then president of the Harvard Law Review — playing the first version of Sim City and discovering the same things about urban management and mismanagement I discovered a couple of years later. Fast-forward twenty years and Obama, now president of the United States and holding the closest equivalent power to Sim City’s God mode, decides to build infrastructure and create that domino effect of commerce and construction.
Unfortunately, Sim City didn’t ship with an obstructionist governor mode.
Nearly two years have passed since Gov. Scott Walker made the infuriating decision to reject a multi-million dollar grant that would have brought that domino effect to Wisconsin’s two largest cities. And as the decision ages in a political vacuum chamber free of controversial legislation against collective bargaining or women’s health, I’m fine admitting liberals were right about Walker. He’s not governor of all of Wisconsin, only of some.
Anyone who thought Obama would do anything but run a by-the-book reelection campaign in 2012 was sorely mistaken. His campaign this year has been run by political operatives in Chicago’s Prudential Building whose strategies are smart but not as revolutionary as the 2008 campaign that won over so many voters because of its seemingly earnest dedication to national unity.
In spite of this, Obama often dusts off a 2008 theme that seems especially relevant this year. He casts himself as a uniter, who is president of both Democrats and Republicans. I rarely hear Walker employ this rhetoric.
For the very liberal, such as the Willy Street fist-clenchers who continue to sing at the Capitol, Obama’s knack for compromise is his most frustrating trait, and the reason I suspect Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is poised to surprise observers as an able successor to Ralph Nader. Just like Tea Party Republicans, they cannot handle the thought of a president who compromises.
But I can. Obama was smart to visit Madison last week because, despite the bitterness over his refusal to visit during the worst of Walker’s scorched-Earth first term, he knows we know where he stands.
A quick look at Obama’s campaign schedule reveals he knows and understands the country’s inevitable transition to a more urbanized society. In the last couple of weeks, his campaign travels have taken him to Virginia Beach, Madison, Denver, Las Vegas, New York City, Miami, Tampa, Cincinnati and Columbus. His only trips to non-urban settings took him to the crucial belt of Washington, D.C.’s suburbs in northern Virginia.
Aside from some big-bucks fundraisers in the area, neither Walker nor Obama’s opponents — Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan— have paid much attention to Madison and Milwaukee. During the controversial recount of Wisconsin’s 2011’s Supreme Court proxy race, Walker famously suggested Madison and Milwaukee were not politically relevant venues. Somehow I get the feeling Obama could pull off a visit to Wisconsin’s smaller communities; I even saw him speak at a rally in Beloit in 2008. But Walker and Romney refuse to see Madison as a city deserving their attention, with the exception of sometimes visiting a meeting of the University of Wisconsin College Republicans.
Watching Democrats and Republicans interact over the last several years, I’ve realized the urban-suburban-rural political divide is possibly stronger than it has been in modern American history. And yes, some of this is personal since my bi-monthly odyssey between O’Hare and Downtown on the Kennedy Expressway has proven to me the inefficiency of regional bus transportation.
But if demographic trends continue to point to further urbanization, there’s nothing wrong with Obama’s insistence on improving infrastructure in our nation’s cities. Republicans’ recent insistence on ignoring the truth and dividing the nation into city folk vs. everyone else will get them nowhere electorally.
They’d do themselves a favor learning how to reticulate splines.
Ryan Rainey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.