Thursday, November 4, 2010

Should New York Learn toThink Like America?

When Bill Clinton was assembling his first cabinet, he declared that he wanted it to "look like America." He meant that he was going to emphasize ethnic and racial diversity in choosing cabinet members.

In watching the results of Tuesday’s results from midtown Manhattan, I started thinking that the election was defining a major point of cultural contention: should New York think like America or should America think like New York?

After all, it felt like Manhattan was in something of an alternate universe. The election occurring across America seemed to have very little in common with what was happening in New York. Not just in terms of political beliefs, but in the nature of the contests themselves.

New York was unique in having two senate seats in play. It also elected a new governor.

And yet, none of them was even contested. New York’s Republican party could not even offer token opposition to Cuomo, Schumer or Gillibrand.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Carl Paladino seemed to have come straight from the twilight zone. As for the Republican opponents of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, no one even knew their names.

In my precinct, there were no campaign commercials for either Republican candidate. As a Republican wave swept the nation New York Democrats won uncontested races. There wasn’t even a debate about the issues.

The Carl Paladino show was an exercise in the theater of the absurd. While Andrew Cuomo was running ads suggesting that he would clean up Albany, no one bothered to ask why he had not, in his role as Attorney General of New York State, cleaned it up before. And no one noticed that New York State government is almost entirely run by Democrats. If it is that corrupt, then which party is to blame? Furthermore, no one asked how this great cleanup was going to solve New York’s problems with the budget deficit and job-killing taxes.

As you sat in Manhattan watching the nation engage in spirited debate over vitally important political issues, New York felt like a world apart, an island that was becoming more and more detached from the mainland.

But, let’s not fool ourselves. This was the way most New Yorkers-- that is, inhabitants of Manhattan Island-- think it should be. Truth be told, there is more diversity of opinion in Manhattan, Kansas than there is on Manhattan Island.

Most New Yorkers do not mind that there is only one political party. Most of them believe that there is only one correct way to think about things-- their way-- and that the rest of the country should think more like New York.

In truth, most New Yorkers do not think that the rest of the country knows how to think. I promise you that it has never crossed their collective minds that they might need to accommodate the thought patterns that prevail on the other side of the Hudson.

Dare I say that New Yorkers did not like the election results.  Culturally speaking, they believed that Barack Obama’s election had confirmed what they had always believed: that America needed to think like New York.

True enough, Barack Obama came to us from Chicago, via
Cambridge, MA. But he also attended Columbia University, and his presidency embodied the habits of thought that prevail in the corridor that runs from Boston to Washington, through New York.

The extent of the Democratic losses in the election suggested, to those who are sufficiently self-critical, that they might have miscalculated.

New Yorkers had greeted the Obama presidency with waves of irrational exuberance. Now their world was crashing down around them. Instead of being the intellectual vanguard that was going to lead America to a brave new future, New Yorkers started feeling that they had been rejected, repudiated, humbled, and left behind.

It made them feel alone and isolated. No longer could they console themselves with the fact that the rest of the country admired the New York way of thought, that it was aspiring to be as bright and as liberal as New Yorkers were.

New Yorkers are happy to conform to the prevailing New York wisdom, but they are far from happy to feel that their beliefs make them outsiders... who are about to become wards of the state.

Like it’s sister state California, New York is on the verge of bankruptcy. Some would say that it has passed well beyond the verge. And like California it has just elected a governor who seems to be more associated with its problems than with new solutions.

But, savvy New Yorkers are beginning to ask: What would happen if New York (or California) can no longer pay its bills and goes to Washington to ask the federal government to bail it our? Will the new Republican House majority, to say nothing of the new Republican governors and state legislators, people who are working day and night to balance their budgets, be happy to bail out New York State?

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