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Urban politics and the Tea Party: can conservatives and city-dwellers find common ground?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 16, 2011 03:08 PM

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The original Tea Party took shape in Boston's urban environment, as the city's merchants coalesced around opposition to British policies, Edward L. Glaeser noted yesterday on the New York Times website.

Today's Tea Party, though, is chiefly rural, and seems to view cities with suspicion.

But Glaeser, also a Globe columnist, makes the case that some policies that would benefit urban areas are a natural fit for the Tea Party's professed anti-big government rhetoric.

In particular, he nominates federal spending on highways and tax policies favoring suburban sprawl as possible areas of agreement.

"Residents of dense downtowns should urge Tea Partiers to take up the fight against socially engineered suburbia through federal homeownership subsidies and sprawl-inducing federal highway spending," Glaeser writes.

So can the Tea Party really find common ground with cities? It seems unrealistic, since that would require the newly elected members of the Tea Party caucus to vote against the perceived interests of their largely rural constituents for more and better roads.

Anyway, we'll soon find out: in this Congress, lawmakers are expected to take up a new transportation bill. The law divides up the proceeds from the federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which traditionally goes overwhelmingly back to road projects. States have some flexibility to spend the money on the kind of transit projects that benefit cities, but much of the money is limited to roads.

Tea Partiers typically extol spending cuts and state rights; reducing highway spending and loosening the restrictions on it would certainly give them a chance to demonstrate just how far they're willing to take their rhetoric.

Globe file: Urban community organizers throw tea overboard into Boston Harbor in December 1773.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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