The city president

I know Matthew Yglesias has written about Obama as an urban-oriented president, but it’s surprising how little noted his big-city provenance has been in the election. I tried to think of the last president who could claim to be from a big city, and you need to go way back — I think 100 years to Taft.

Why does this matter? I think the rhetoric of American politics which exalts small town America is part of what provokes continuing neglect of some of the country’s biggest problems, which are in the big cities. The education system in the US isn’t great, but it’s particularly bad in the inner city. Poverty and deprivation can be bad in rural areas, but there are concentrations of the country’s poorest people in the biggest cities. Public transport matters most in cities, and is terribly neglected. I’m hoping a president who’s really from a city, my home town, Chicago, will begin to make a difference.

Lots of presidents had time in Washington, but the life of most senators and certainly vice-presidents is pretty divorced from city concerns. So let’s look at Obama’s presidential predecessors:

  • George W Bush — Houston ties, but not a city guy, as his attachment to clearing brush on a ranch demonstrates
  • Bill Clinton — Little Rock hardly counts as the big city
  • George H W Bush — Midland, Texas
  • Ronald Reagan — Los Angeles suburbia
  • Jimmy Carter — Plains, Georgia
  • Gerald Ford — Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Richard Nixon — Los Angeles suburbia
  • Lyndon Johnson — west Texas hill country
  • John Kennedy — perhaps, but his base was more Boston suburbs than the city itself
  • Dwight Eisenhower — OK, he was president of Columbia University, but most of his pre-presidential life was on military bases
  • Harry Truman — Independence, Missouri
  • Franklin Roosevelt — the Hudson river valley
  • Herbert Hoover — hard to say, given his globe-trotting existence, but probably Palo Alto
  • Calvin Coolidge — Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Warren Harding — Marion, Ohio
  • Woodrow Wilson — Princeton, New Jersey
  • William Howard Taft — Cincinnati, Ohio

2 thoughts on “The city president

  1. Pingback: The city president « The Toynbee convector

  2. Pingback: SmartRemarks » All roads lead to Rahm

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