Why Conservatives Should Care About Transit

Via a friendly reader, comes a link to this fine and wise comment about the important role which public transportation ought to play in the minds of anyone who is concerned about “conserving” the good things in our daily lives. Given my most recent post here at Front Porch Republic, it’s probably not surprising that the following is my favorite paragraph from it:

Car-dependency also requires the nuclear family to become a primary transportation resource. Parents must shuttle their children to school, soccer practice, and even their friends’ houses until the children can shuttle themselves (at peril to their lives) in late adolescence. Not only does this overburden families themselves, it prevents the participation of community members in sharing the burdens of child-rearing. Conservatives sometimes mock Hillary Clinton’s infamous aphorism that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but surely this is in fact what conservatives actually believe. Otherwise, why would conservatives care about a culture that promotes irresponsibility and license? Social conservatives, at least, recognize that children flourish best not merely as members of a household but as participants in a culture, and that families themselves have more purposes than logistical support.

Go forth and read!

19 comments on this post.
  1. Linda Wightman:

    Conservatives sometimes mock Hillary Clinton’s infamous aphorism that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but surely this is in fact what conservatives actually believe.

    Most conservatives I know, and I would tend to agree with them, identify more with “I’ve seen the village, and I don’t want it raising my children.” It takes a family to raise a child, and by family I mean parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and assorted other kinfolk. It takes a village to support a family, but the raising of children is the right and responsibility of the family itself.

    Be that as it may, I’ll give as many cheers as you like for public transit systems. I grew up with Philadelphia’s, relied on Boston’s, and struggle with Orlando’s. What I really want for everyone is that of Basel, Switzerland: frequent, on time, clean, quiet, and largely on the honor system. Growing old hurts a lot less when you’re not dependent on your car.

  2. James Matthew Wilson:

    Rick Santorum’s book “It Takes a Family” correctly explains why conservatives mocked Clinton’s book. When she says, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child,” she is speaking metaphorically; her “village” is a bureaucracy grand and impersonal enough to manage a society of some hundreds of millions.

    I particularly love “public” transportation, but not as much as I would value being able to walk to work, nor anywhere near as much as I cherish working at home (as many of “us academics” do).

  3. D.W. Sabin:

    When a nation like Spain, just 30 or so years out of the grips of Fascism can produce a better passenger rail system than our own, well, it boggles the mind. This is one bit of prudent infrastructure that would help on many levels…energy, community planning, the environment…but we’re too busy running a consumptive military in service to Fear and Loathing.

    Relying on my village to educate my children…a wealthy village with what they proudly refer to as a “Blue Ribbon School System” resulted in a need to teach my kids how to write at the college level. I had to literally re-write their first few college essays and append a lesson on what was wrong and why and then require them to correct the pieces and submit them back for grading and then by the third try, they were passable. This was a stunning revelation to me. These were smart kids, 2 of them honor role and they wrote a load of gibberish that would have made someone who did not know them think they were either insane or mentally retarded. Given they’re my kids, perhaps there is no small credence lent the former possibility but I’d have to say it takes both the community and the family with a heavy bit of emphasis upon the family if we are not to produce pedestrian intellects of middling quality….a perfect viewing audience. Able to swipe three credit cards in a single bound.

    Public School now is essentially a giant clearance sale of facts and conventional thinking that avoids discourse and the Socratic Method because it cannot be easily reduced to a Test geared to the leveling of lowest common denominator. Bad teachers are coddled and good ones beaten down. It must accept much of the blame for a generation that has essentially abdicated it’s responsibility for the lapsed-republic because it thinks it has mote important things to do on it’s busy “to do” list. Hillary Clinton is just the kind of leader for such a determinably clueless generation. Washington fits her like a glove.

  4. Septeus7:

    Nice find Russell and I’ve hated Car culture for years. This country really was build by rail and I really think morally in the car helped to destroy the country. There are so many problems with car and truck culture it is hard to know where to start.

    1. It is inefficient for freight and big truck cost more to the public than freight by rail because damages to roads and other vehicles driving damaged roads, environment effects, etc…

    2. Cars are inefficient for passenger transit because if the lost time in traffic and relatively slow speed for long distance travel compared to rail.

    3. The development of early teenage promiscuity because the car give people a false sense of disconnected independence. They start regarding their action without thinking about how it effects other people. Having a problem with the wife? Don’t work it out just get in the car and leave. Having a problem with your parents? Get in the car and leave. You begin to start thinking that your schedule is only one that matters because you can always get in the car and go anywhere at anytime or so you think.

    4. They very act of driving make you puts you at odds with they rest of society because you watch out for other drivers and constantly assume they will drive like idiots but does this hostility towards your countrymen really end when you park your car?

    I could go on and on why cars are perhaps the dumbest invention ever created and are basically anti-human, environment destroying, family ruining, psychopath creating murder machines but I think you got the point by now.

  5. Kevin Carson:

    The conservatives’ ire over Hillary’s “it takes a village” remark illustrates their own theoretical incoherency when it comes to understanding how much the “traditional” culture they lionize (the nuclear family as it existed before the Youth Rebellion of the ’60s) is itself the product of massive social distortion by corporate capitalism.

    The Model T, radio, and the cultural effects of mass consumer culture made necessary by industrial overproduction, were all hammering away at demographically stable communities and extended families, from the ’20s on. Demographic mobility and economic centralization resulted in a rump nuclear family. From ca. 1920 until the 1960s, the nuclear family was able more or less to survive on the cultural capital of the pre-WWI years. But by 1960, it had exhausted that cultural capital; the nuclear family, stripped of its protective web of extended family and community associations, was left naked in the face of an atomized mass society. Reagan-style “conservatives” appeal to something that was already dead and just hadn’t started stinking yet.

    Along similar lines, the so-called “traditional” society of middle America, identified with the “hardhats” and “silent majority,” was very much a deviation from older and more genuinely traditional roots.

    I recall a guy on one of Brian Lamb’s book review shows on C-SPAN about ten years ago (I was listening from the kitchen, and have no idea who he was–little help?) who described the Greatest Generation as a revolt against the cultural sensibilities of the Victorian and Edwardian era. It was a rejection, by the “lost generation” coming of age during and after WWI, of everything they disliked about their parents’ generation: the florid rhetoric, sentimentality, baroque clothing, men’s hirsute facial style, and all the rest. Against it, they raised the taciturn, close-cropped, no-nonsense style of Gary Cooper.

    Incidentally, I wonder just how much of the “silent majority” cultural style, in the generations that came of age from ca. 1915 and 1960, reflected the cultural effects of two world wars and mass conscription. I’m fairly certain that the “silent majority’s” views along the lines of “put ‘im in the army–that’ll straighten ‘im out” result from the overwhelming militarization of society. The whole “rally round the flag” and “support the troops” mentality is a radical departure from earlier attitudes toward standing armies and overseas commitments. But I wonder about the little things. For example, did the close-cropped, clean-shaven look of the mid-20th century come out of the experiences of a mass-conscript army sheared like sheep in WWI, out of the sanitary necessities of trench warfare?

  6. James Matthew Wilson:

    I think I know what Kevin’s talking about; I hope so. I presume real “traditionalists” would agree with him and disagree with whomever he is condeming. See, http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1128&loc=qs

  7. Kevin Carson:

    Interesting link, JMW. On the general subject of Palin, I think she symbolizes a larger problem on the “culturally conservative” Right: the defining down of “traditionalism.”

    The more disingenuous voices on the cultural Right like to pretend that they’ve got a “silent majority” of middle Americans behind them, but the honest ones like James Dobson admit they’ve lost the culture wars.

    The only way they can pretend to reflect some middle American consensus is if they gerrymander their majority to include anyone who has problems with gay marriage and abortion and attends a megachurch (or just watches Joel Osteen and maybe has some dayglo “Christian” wall plaques from the local Bible bookstore chain). The problem is that the vast majority of such people can only be identified as culturally conservative in any real sense. The majority of people who call themselves “evangelicals” and “conservatives” these days are very much a part of the larger culture. Just look at the Jerry Springer hijinks in Sarah Palin’s family, despite her mouthing the right religious platitudes at her local Assembly of God church. For that matter, the so-called Bible Belt is more Jerry Springerized than the so-called “culturally liberal” Blue States, if you look at the divorce stats and the rates of out of wedlock pregnancy.

  8. Russell Arben Fox:

    What an interesting path this discussion has taken! I probably shouldn’t have put that Clinton paragraph in, but the temptation was too great. I guess I’ll start from the top.

    Linda,

    Most conservatives I know…identify more with “I’ve seen the village, and I don’t want it raising my children.” It takes a family to raise a child, and by family I mean parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and assorted other kinfolk. It takes a village to support a family, but the raising of children is the right and responsibility of the family itself.

    Two thoughts. First, I think you’d be very hard pressed to find any explicit statement in Clinton’s book which would dispute the conservative point you’re making. Granted, she was a long-time and thoroughly liberal (in the modern sense) “advocate” for children, which often meant bureaucracies being empowered to intervene in the lives of families, and the abuses that can come from such are certainly legion, but still…honestly, is there any serious person who cares about families who would also like to go back to an era where there were no child protection services or the like? To the orphanages and “homes from troubled children” of the 19th century or earlier, perhaps, with all their failings and abuses? I find that hard to believe (and if someone out there would like that, I imagine that such would probably also like a world where the sort of social dysfunctions which create the need for large orphanages, etc., didn’t exist, in which case an attack on Hillary Clinton is misplaced: it’s urban life and consumer capitalism itself which ought to be the target of your ire). In any case, my point is simply that on the basis of her book, Clinton, like most other “put-the-child-first” lawyers and activists I am familiar with, are from what I can tell completely supportive of the family having primary responsibility for their children; it is in difficult cases, involving poverty and abuse, where they suggest that that responsibility should be transfered elsewhere.

    Second, and much more briefly, thanks for your acknowledgment that a village is needed to sustain the family in its child-rearing work. The best spin I can put on Clinton’s use of that African proverb (which obviously emerged from a rural context where the extended family–as you say, “parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and assorted other kinfolk”–actually constituted the bulk of the village) is that she wants to find some compromised arrangement whereby the values of the village-supported family can be made available in a world that has overwhelmingly embraced mobility, economic opportunity, and a host of other social transformations. If “the village” does not contain any of your extended family, and your neighborhood itself is often empty during the daytime hours, as everyone rushes off on to commute to their office parks, what do you do to not lose sight of the children?

    Well, for starters, you do as David Schaengold said in his original piece: you support–meaning, you get the village and its government to go in on and help pay for–public transit, so families and children need not be so dependent upon the automobile. That’s the whole reason why he brought Clinton into the argument in the first place, and it’s a pretty good reason, I think.

    Sorry to go on so long with this response. Thanks also for your praise of Philadelphia and Boston’s public transit–those are great examples of the kind of investment and living patterns which can make big cities more hospitable to both the young and the old. And yes, Europe understands this much better than the U.S.–the trains I made use of in Germany were a delight.

  9. Russell Arben Fox:

    Okay, shorter responses this time:

    James,

    I confess I was profoundly unimpressed by Santorum’s book, which seemed to me like a meandering collection of speeches and clippings, without any serious, coherent argument. The only portion of the book where I really felt like he was making a case as opposed to publishing talking points was when he was discussion abortion–which, perhaps no coincidentally, is where he made some of his strongest points against Clinton. By contrast, I felt that his discussion of her actual book was weak, skewed by his inability to really take seriously his own idea modern liberal notions of “the village” have been corrupted by bigness…which logically must include big business, and not just his pantheon of conservative enemies, “big government” and “big unions” and the like.

    D.W.,

    Public School now is essentially a giant clearance sale of facts and conventional thinking that avoids discourse and the Socratic Method because it cannot be easily reduced to a Test geared to the leveling of lowest common denominator.

    Once again, I hope I can write half as well as you by the time I die. And a great and on-target comment about Spain to boot! Though my wife and I do send our kids to public schools, we are, we hope anyway, fully aware of the problems we’re buying into, and it’s steely-eyed critics like you from over the years that we have to thank for such.

    Septeus7,

    The development of early teenage promiscuity because the car give people a false sense of disconnected independence. They start regarding their action without thinking about how it effects other people. Having a problem with the wife? Don’t work it out just get in the car and leave. Having a problem with your parents? Get in the car and leave.

    Excellent comment. Of course, is wasn’t just the automobile that enabled people to act impulsively and claim a false disconnection: people could always stamp out of the house and run out into the fields, as many a farm boy and girl have done over the centuries. Still, you’re on to something there. I read somewhere an investigation of dating, courtship, and marriage patterns as they historically changed in a city as the automobile was introduced and became commonplace. Not that I would like to give up on our family car, but if I recall correctly, the resulting data wasn’t pretty.

    Kevin,

    Thanks very much for the grand historical perspective. And truly, sometimes I think that Jerry Springer is a fair synecdoche of the whole history of American culture and economics since WWII, or perhaps even earlier.

  10. D.W. Sabin:

    Russell, any compliments regarding the possibility of writing ability are greatly appreciated but they must be shared because it is the conversation on the Porch which both elicits and allows the language to pour out. There are many interesting things said here which beg a studied reply.

    Though I often brutalize it, I am a big fan of Public Education…as Jefferson asserted, it is a bulwark of the Republic and I get frustrated when it appears to be so easily satisfied by being merely adequate for too many people. It also fails to honor and further the various forms of “intelligence” expressed in a diverse population…beyond the “book learnin” to the mechanical, kinetic and artistic.

  11. Tom Hurst:

    “Public transit” is really “government transit”, and I pity those who pathetically depend on mother government for something so fundamental to their lives and liberty as transport. Indeed, those who ride the government bus are in a very real sense letting petty bureaucrats decide when, where and how one travels. And, as I explain below, the parasites that use these systems are not even paying for their own travel.

    To begin, American Public Transport Association propaganda aside, the numbers aren’t even close to working. The average taxpayer subsidy for a government bus service exceeds $20 for every dollar of fares collected, and government train tax subsidies are more than double that. In fact, U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that there are some government transport projects where the per rider subsidy over the life of the system is nearly $1,000,000 (and most project subsidies are at least several hundred thousand dollars per rider)! So, ask yourself the question, would people ride the bus if they had to pay the full cost of, say, $20 per ride? Of course not! Indeed, with numbers like that it’s a simple calculation to show that the poor taxpayers could instead buy every regular bus rider a new car every few years, and pay them thousands per year for insurance, gas and maintenance. But that would be a more obvious socialism, unlike the somewhat hidden socialism of government buses. Personally, I’d rather keep my money and use it to provide for my own transport, and I’d hope others needing transport are responsible enough to pay for their own, too. I’m tired of being the host for thousands of parasites.

    Further, buses are not even “green”. What with running empty at times and such, the average city bus only gets something on the order of 15-20 miles per gallon per person. Jeesh, I get that in my pickup truck, and (obviously) twice that if my wife is riding along. So much for the “sustainability” argument!

    So, forget the statist, socialist, collectivist transport propaganda spewed by the government cheerleader media and the self-serving government parasites themselves, and have some faith in free markets to solve our problems. History and experience shows that if there is sufficient demand for a good or service at a given price, it WILL be provided. As proof, that’s the mechanism that we see work miracles every day as we go to stores and buy things, or hire people to do things. The very fact that government has to step in to provide something like a bus or train system is a giant red flag that it’s not economical. Why, you ask? Because if it were economical, it would already have been built with private money!

    Truly, the freedom to get into the vehicle of your choice and use it for things that you want to, when you want to, is a major blessing. Riding a hyper-expensive, low mileage, dirty, noisy, uncomfortable and probably late bus, well, that’s not for me, for above all, I believe in liberty. Don’t let the government steal yours as you become dependent on it for everything!

  12. Kevin Carson:

    Tom Hurst: “…if it were economical, it would already have been built with private money!”

    This is a total non sequitur. This is a free market. Public transit is not economical because population density has been artificially reduced and sprawl and monoculture artificially encouraged by government policy. Zoning laws prohibit most mixed-use development, even neighborhood groceries, while streets and utilities are extended to outlying developments below cost at the expense of tax- and ratepayers in the old part of town. And local “growth machines,” coalitions of real estate developers hungry to gobble subsidized highway and street pork out of the government trough, are the primary political force in most localities. Most local governments are a showcase property of the real estate developers.

    If sprawl and the car culture had to operate on their own nickel, that idle capacity on buses would be a lot less.

    Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

  13. Kevin Carson:

    Ooops. I meant to say “this is *not* a free market.”

  14. Kyle:

    @Tom Hurst: When are we all invited to drive around on your privately built roads?

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  16. Tom Hurst:

    Well, as usual, it seems the question of “Who will pay for the roads?” is thrown at those of us who prefer limited government. Without getting into a long harangue about public versus private roads, let me make a few observations that pertain to government transport.

    To begin, most roads in America *are* built with private money, for both minor roads within residential or commercial areas, and major roads that abut such areas are paid for by developers who then pass the cost along to those who purchase the property. Indeed, though the government somehow claims ownership of and controls most roads, the only roads it truly pays for itself are major highways (and even then it is via taxes taken from individuals). So, it would seem that most roads built today are actually “private” in a sense, just as in the 1800′s when there were literally tens of thousands of miles of engineered, maintained roads all across America. Some were toll roads and some were free; some were built by companies, and others by communities or even individuals. The economics of everyone using them always worked out somehow, and people and goods traveling from place to place is one of the major things that made us a wealthy country. So, the idea of roads not existing without government is a red herring, for they did and they do. Admittedly, not everyone pays by the mile or such for what they use today, but we all pay something in some way. And without doubt we all massively benefit from the existence of roads whether we drive on them ourselves or not.

    Now, in the context of government buses, well, not only do they drive on the same roads car owners do, but they wouldn’t be in business without those roads. So, I don’t see how some can imply that car drivers are the proverbial “free riders” (parasites) on the roads. Indeed, I’d guess that any legitimate estimation would show that buses and the people that ride them are probably paying proportionately less for road use than car owners. And since the numbers I was citing in my earlier comment on the extreme cost of government buses are just the costs associated with providing the actual service (buses, fuel, maintenance, drivers, bureaucrats, pension & health care benefits, etc.), they are, in fact, the real cost of riding a bus, just as making a car payment and filling the tank is nominally a real cost of driving a car. In short, comparing the cost of operation and “green-ness” of cars and government buses is legitimate – and government buses lose hands down.

    And, yes, as someone noted above, we clearly do not live in a free market; and, yes, zoning (government) forces certain types of communities. The key is to realize that when government has power – no matter how little – it will always abused so that government enriches and empowers itself further. Of course, in many cases developers and property owners influence government unduly, but then again, government panders to poor people, too (buses, welfare, free schools, etc.). In any case, cities and towns are what they are, and being pragmatic, it’s clear to me that subsidized government buses and trains are the problem, not the solution.

  17. Kevin Carson:

    Tom Hurd:

    If everything ultimately funded by taxpayers is “private,” that doesn’t leave much out. Whether the price to the individual using the system reflects the cost of providing it is what most people mean by “private.” And when a particular item is subsidized by the government, it may very well be that everyone benefits from it to some extent; but it’s nevertheless true that the subsidy tends to make business models and forms of economic organization which rely intensively on the thing subsidized, artificially competitive against those which do not. Subsidies to transportation generate artificial distance between things, and promote a population distribution based on monocultures. I guarantee people who pay above-cost utility rates so the local real estate developer can get subsidized utilities to his new subdivision are not “benefiting” to the same degree as the developer; they’re not benefiting at all. And if roads and sprawl were funded entirely by user fees, people on average would live a lot closer to where they work and shop, and there’d be a lot more mixed-use neighborhoods.

  18. Barry:

    “I read somewhere an investigation of dating, courtship, and marriage patterns as they historically changed in a city as the automobile was introduced and became commonplace. ”

    Robert A. Heinlein’s belief was that the Sexual Revolution was started in the 1920′s, as cars became common. I’ve disagreed with much of what he wrote, but it does seem likely. Of course, this is a sense of ‘started’ which covers a few generations).

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