In the past few months there have been two instances of seemingly progressive proposals, which, at their core, are nothing more than right-wing agendas in disguise. Both of these cases occurred in places I know well - the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Washington DC. With conservatism in the United States becoming increasingly unpopular, it is interesting to see how the right is framing issues to generate support for them.

Welcome to Highland Park, Texas - the ultra-rich suburb of Dallas. If you can't afford a million dollar home, an expensive car for your kid to park in the public high school's parking garage, or membership to one (or more) of the local country clubs, Highland Park probably isn't for you. The city is 95% white and has an average median income 300% higher than Dallas, its neighbor on three sides (the fourth border is shared with University Park; the two cities, referred to as the 'park cities' are bordered on all four sides by Dallas). These statistics are relevant because they paint a picture of how closed off Highland Park has made itself from the rest of Dallas, a big city which suffers from typical "big city problems".

Last month, The Dallas Morning News reported that Highland Park was proposing to make its main street, Mockingbird Lane, a tolled road. Highland Park residents would not be charged to use the public street, but drivers attempting to cut from one side of Dallas to the other would have to pay up or find an alternate route. Legality aside, "congestion pricing" is an idea dreamed up by big city progressives in an attempt to fight road congestion and pollution, and to encourage car-pooling and public transportation. The fundamental idea behind congestion pricing is that for years driving (specifically during rush hours) has been underpriced; as a result we've overconsumed, and the tragedy of commons eventually trapped us, making everyone worse off. Therefore, we should increase the price of driving, so that it more accurately reflects the actually costs that are often externalized.

Why am I so critical of congestion pricing? Actually, I'm not; I think in some places we should give it a try. The problem I have is that Highland Park appears to be manipulating a progressive idea - gaming the system in a way to achieve an entirely different agenda. If Highland Park residents were truly concerned with congestion, pollution, or the environment, there wouldn't be one car for every driving-age resident in the city; they would have traded in their full-sized SUVs and gas-guzzling luxury cars for Priuses and bicycles; the fact that they haven't demonstrates their true interests. Make no mistake, building a physical barrier around Highland Park would be wildly unpopular, and cries of elitism and illegal discrimination would ring out; but using "congestion pricing" might accomplish the same goal, while making Highland Park look social responsible to boot!

On the other side of the country, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, locals are opposing the construction of the purple line - a light rail line designed to connect suburbs in Maryland (and eventually Virginia) to the Washington DC Metrorail system. In the 60s and 70s, when planners designed and built the Washington Metrorail system, it was under the flawed assumption that business would always be conducted in Washington's downtown business district, and that the people working there would all live and commute from the suburbs. The past several decades have proven that people are working both downtown and in the suburbs, and people are living both in the suburbs and the city. Therefore, the system ultimately makes suburb to suburb travel on public transit extremely difficult - the purple line is the answer to that problem.

Locals are viciously opposed to the new rail line because it is currently slated to run next to the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail, they argue, is a wonderful, peaceful, natural place for jogging and bicycling, and running an electric train next to the trail would ruin the aesthetic beauty and charm and create noise pollution. Fair enough, building any transportation infrastructure, whether rail or road or airport has costs, but do those costs outweigh the benefits that thousands of commuters would enjoy? More importantly, do Chevy Chase locals even care about the trail? Or, like in Highland Park, is it merely a political shill, designed to make the locals look like environmental progressives, while masking a darker agenda?

It turns out that the Sierra Club, a leading environmental progressive organization, wholly supports constructing the purple line, arguing that it would be the best environmental option. The so-called "environmentalists" in Chevy Chase are actually sprawl enablers, forcing individuals to rely on cars to get to the suburban business districts and creating incentives unfavorable for people interested in living in the city (where owning a car is expensive and difficult). Back to the trails, it turns out that those clamoring to "save the trails" were actually opposed to building them back in the first place! Apparently these individuals are ardent opponents of change of any kind, regardless of who benefits or what the environmental cost.

Both cases demonstrate the confusion that conservatives are creating by painting their agendas as progressive. These cases also demonstrate the necessity to investigate and understand the motives behind any proposal, and resist throwing support behind every idea that sounds liberal or progressive, because the unintended consequences could be huge. As long as energy and the environment continue to be hot-button issues, I'm sure we will see more of the same.


    On July 06, 2008 Anonymous said...

    Dunno who you are, but you sure nailed the unspoken agenda of the anti-change vigilantes in the People's Republic of the Town of Chevy Chase. The land use issues have articulated a schism that may never be healed, and now the kangaroo council is stacked with a troika deaf, dumb and blind to all but the activist agenda. The left has passed the 180 degree axis and is now approaching reactionary status. But fear not; they've already got theirs, so nothing to lose. Rumors of seccession of some later-annexed sections abound . . .

    On July 09, 2008 Anonymous said...

    I live here, too. If "75" is all jam-up, I will go through your "hood". You are not all that.