- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
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- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
Nativism in Philadelphia Politics
Barack Obama (D - Illinois) was born in Hawaii, to parents from Kansas and Kenya, and lived in Indonesia and New York before moving to Chicago at the age of 24 to work as a community organizer. He then went to law school in Boston (Cambridge, to be exact) before returning to Chicago to work as a civil rights lawyer and teach constitutional law, became a state senator for his district in Chicago and then was elected U.S. Senator for the state of Illinois.
Before running for the U.S. Senate, though, Obama made a run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran in a 2000 Democratic primary against Bobby Rush, a four-term incumbent. There were a lot of reasons why Rush beat Obama, but the criticism of Obama that stuck was that Rush's claim that "Maybe you [Obama] haven't been around the 1st Congressional District long enough to really see what's going on." [Link]
Obama's recently been subjected to a different kind of nativist criticism -- namely that (according to Debra Dickerson, Stanley Crouch, and others) because his father is from Africa, that he isn't authentically black. (See Patricia Williams's excellent critique of this bogus position.) But this earlier instance of nativism may actually be more instructive for Philadelphia politics.
There are lots of stories besides Obama's -- neither Hillary Clinton nor John Edwards were born in the states in which they were elected to the Senate. (Neither was Bobby Kennedy.) Jennifer Granholm in Michigan is from Canada; and on the other side of the aisle, Mitt Romney was born in Michigan, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Austria. But I can't think of any comparable story in Philadelphia politics. Arlen Specter was born in Kansas, but 1) not many people know that and 2) Republican politics in the city are different. Still, Specter has wider support than any Republican in Philadelphia partly because he's lived here for fifty years and is perceived as a native son.
Tom Knox's campaign has gotten some traction partly because he has a great Philadelphia story. Abbotsford public housing, dropped out of high school to support his family. That resonates with people who don't really care that much about his business successes. Now imagine that Knox's story were identical, but set it in the Bronx, or Baltimore. His qualifications and story would be exactly the same, but I don't think he would be getting any serious consideration for mayor.
If Obama had come to Philadelphia instead of Chicago, I could easily have seen him getting beaten in a congressional primary. But I doubt he would get elected to the state Senate, let alone the U.S. Chamber. If Ben Franklin tried to get elected to office today, he'd be told by more than a few people to go back to Boston. And all of this is a little strange.
And it's not just electoral politics. Besides the way the party makes its decisions, and the voters make theirs, there's also the chattering classes. Nativist assumptions have popped up on this blog more than once as well. I was prompted to make my first post on this site partly because of a post that I thought made an odd and distorted distinction between Philadelphia natives and newcomers. But then I started noticing the same dichotomy, again and again. I've since proposed an alternate taxonomy, but this tendency is strong enough that it's worth exploring on its own.
The shape it seems to take is this. Native Philadelphians -- generally regardless of their politics -- see themselves as tough, hard-working, either poor/working-class or in solidarity with the poor/working-class, authentic, realist, well-informed, and bound together by a common place and time and certain common experiences. (The mayoral candidates tend to promote that they went to public schools.) Outsiders are seen as suspect on all of these issues.
I'm not really interested in discussing the various mayoral candidates' proposals, or rehashing the specifics of these native/newcomer debates. Instead -- as a transplanted Philadelphian who was born in Detroit -- I hope a few native and adopted Philadelphians can help me better understand this sentiment.
I also think that we can and should subject Philadelphia's nativism to a thorough critique from the point of view of (young) progressive politics. So many of Philadelphia's young progressive politicos are from points elsewhere, with something unique to offer. There has to be a role for all of our immigrants -- and a point where we can stop being outsiders and stand side-by-side with the city's native daughters and sons.