After every malapropism, every inadvertent display of incuriosity, every heartbreaking show of incompetence, we can remind ourselves we had nothing to do with Bush’s reelection. It’s some consolation, small though it is.
In fact, the city actively tried to prevent his election. In 2004, one-third of John Kerry’s campaign funds came from New York, and in the end, nearly three-quarters of the city, or 74.3 percent, voted for him. (In Manhattan, this number was a staggering 81.7 percent; only in Staten Island did a majority break Bush’s way.) New Yorkers who hadn’t attended a protest since college got on buses to Pennsylvania and Ohio, knocked on doors, tried to swing things our way to nudge the country into a bluer state of mind. We fantasized about secession. “New York to country: Drop dead.”
The war? We decided we wanted someone else in charge of it, if not to end it, even if we bore the brunt of September 11’s casualties. The tax cuts? No thanks, even if New Yorkers are among the wealthiest citizens on planet Earth. Privatizing Social Security? Please. Even New Yorkers, whose very fortunes rise and fall with those of Wall Street’s, aren’t that evangelical about or trusting of the market.
Our rejection turned out to be prescient, but the sense of validation that our predictions have come true is cold comfort. Soldiers are still coming home in coffins; the Treasury is bare; a hurricane destroyed New Orleans and Bush could barely be made to notice. Of course our president is suspicious of government. He has no idea how to run one. At least New York, the ultimate meritocratic city, had the good sense to figure this out. We prefer self-made men and women in this town.
New York used to be gritty—suddenly, it’s crunchy. Who would have guessed that in terms of energy efficiency, New York had surpassed Portland and Seattle, the great Granola Republics of the West Coast?
On the other hand, the city takes the traditionally Republican ideal of a strong defense so seriously the NYPD now has its own international intelligence network—as if to say, why have the federal government do something we can do for ourselves?
But lest one think the city has become a sink-or-swim Darwinian jungle, there’s a hotline with a real live human to listen to your complaints—and sometimes even do something about them.
And all this has been accomplished with a Republican in City Hall.
A Republican?! Be still, my jerking knee.
In the popular imagination, New York is defined by its blue-state passions. But in fact, the city now seems to be the capital of moderate pragmatism, with a set of modest civic virtues that Benjamin Franklin would be proud of. We’re tolerant. We see past parties and labels, saving our real rage for terrorists and dissemblers and possibly a certain transit union that asks for full pensions at age 50. We see nuance—we know the difference, say, between Iraq and Afghanistan. We can see that, though the Dolans may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, and they certainly can’t see an inch past their self-interest, they’re right about a West Side stadium. We don’t depend on the federal government. And of course, we don’t pay retail.
New Yorkers, having lived through the passion play of 9/11, seem to have lost their taste for certain kinds of political drama. Who, having lived through that day in the city, doesn’t now wonder at all that’s been done in its name? The paralysis at the site itself is a constant reminder of the dangers of too much emotion in politics.
Bloomberg is a perfect politician for this moment. Who loves him? The list can’t extend that far beyond his mom. The most charismatic thing about him is his checkbook. His most important virtue is his adulthood. It’s a quality one would like to see our national leaders grow into.