Since the Republican National Committee selected Cleveland as the host of its 2016 convention on Tuesday, there's been constant talk about the city's past infamy — that time its river caught on fire, the moniker it's failed to escape ever since, its perpetual sports disappointment, the epithet that suggests the region itself has been corroding over for years: Rust Belt.
From outside of town, it's alluring to interpret the city's political coup as part of a turnaround: Cleveland is in the midst of a renaissance! Or, it's trying to prove that it is. Or, the RNC — eager for battle-ground votes — believes that one is afoot.
It's true that Cleveland in 2014 is not the caricature it's long been portrayed as. Its downtown is thriving — people are even moving there. The skyline is growing. But, not to diminish any of those signs of recovery, it would be a shame if Republicans descended on the city and failed to mention any of the very real problems that still exist there. Not the flaming river of 40 years ago. But black unemployment today.
Just a few such examples, on topics that have received scant attention in Republican platforms and conventions past: The poverty rate in Cleveland is more than twice the national level. More than half of the city's children live in poverty (only Detroit ranks worse). The city's population has fallen to less than half of what it was in 1950, as good industrial jobs have disappeared. As a consequence, Cleveland has struggled to keep and attract young people, to contend with vacant housing, and to employ black men.
In many ways, Cleveland embodies either policy challenges Republicans have said little about, or realities directly at odds with Republican party positions. In 2012, the party's platform included repeal of Obamacare. In Cleveland, however, the Medicaid expansion included in the law has been directly responsible for expanding access to about 40,000 low-income adults who were previously uninsured.
The GOP platform has traditionally been heavy on gun rights; Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who has decried gun violence in his city, is pushing for stronger gun control. The city faces problems like HIV, for which abstinence education is a weak response, or crime, for which mandatory sentencing is an unimaginative one.
Anyone who cares about Cleveland should hope that Republicans come to town and talk about more than the downtown revival.