Monday, December 20, 2004

Why are New Yorkers so liberal?

An appropriate topic for my first real post here, I think.

To start, we need to think about what liberalism and conservatism mean when applied to the real world, and the actual experiences of real people. Liberalism is a system which places an emphasis upon government to provide for the population, and for the individual to contribute to the 'greater good' with higher taxes and other means for distribution of wealth and services throughout the society. I hate to use the word 'communism', but liberalism as it exists today does in fact reflect communist theory in most of it's major points. This was not always the case, but nonetheless, today's liberals and the Democratic party as a whole are far closer to a communist party than we have ever had in this country previously.

Now, this of course begs the original question of why New Yorkers are so overwhelmingly liberal. If you ask the average New Yorker this question, they'll probably tell you that it has to do with their sophistication, education, tolerance or other elitist mumbo jumbo when compared to the rural philistines which inhabit the vast cornfields and trailer parks of red state America.Truly, much ink and bandwidth has been devoted to this very topic in the last several weeks since the end of the election, as stunned lefties try desperately to make themselves feel better about the election results. Even though they lost, it has been repeatedly rationalized, the results only prove what they had believed all along; i.e. the superiority of the urban intellectual class over the moronic Bible-thumping homophobic warmongers in the rest of the country.

However, up until this point, such feelings were kept carefully private; only spoken at cocktail parties and dinners amongst those of like mind, lest they make too much noise and alienate the poor sheep in the rest of the country whose vote they resent, yet nonetheless need to gain national political power. Fortunately, they have become so unhinged at their stunning loss, that these once-quiet thoughts are now being spoken out loud for all to hear, to the long term detriment of their party.

But I digress. The reason for such liberal/socialist/communist leanings is not out of some great intellectual enlightenment bestowed upon those who pay $3000 a month for a studio loft in SoHo. No, I am afraid that the reason is far more simple, and less existentially glamorous than that.

City dwellers, by definition, tend to live a far more communal existence than their rural counterparts. They live right on top of each other (literally), they travel together on buses and subways, they dine with each other at restaurants (I do not know a single resident of NYC who dines out fewer than three times a week...and orders in the rest of the time). They have public parks, not backyards; few own cars and drive anywhere themselves with any regularity. Personal space is at an absolute minimum, public space is the norm.

All of this adds up to a genuine feeling that the lives of all the citizens are intertwined to a degree that the individual needs should in fact give way to the needs of the collective society. After all, if you make life better for the next guy, it will inevitably be better for me, as I will likely have to deal with the next guy approximately five million times each day.

These feelings of course lead to massive local government (NY has the highest taxes in the nation). But people pay it because they see it as wholly necessary... their responsibility as citizens. And it's just the way it's always been (What are they going to do, NOT have a subway?). The idea of privatization has never been raised, for a number of reasons (powerful unions, bureaucratic momentum, corporate distrust, general complacency... pick one). It's ironic that the big business capitol of the world would have virtually no privatization of any public sector service, but alas, this is the current (and future) state of NYC. It's the same with welfare and education. Schools are meant to be public, and we need to do all we can to accommodate minorities... because we all live right on top of each other and we can't have angry minorities, now can we?

There is of course a better way, or at the very least another way, but this system has been so ingrained in the fabric of city life that all other ideas a viewed, at best, with tremendous suspicion. People here have simply become liberal drones. It is a near impossibility at this point for most New Yorkers to wrap their heads around any governmental concept that is not rooted in socialism and/or multiculturalism. People forget that Giulianni was mayor for eight years before 9/11 made him a hero of epic proportions. In those eight years he was truly one of the most hated men in the world in certain leftist circles. He got the Hitler-moustache treatment on protest signs long before George W. came on the scene. Why? Because he did things differently. He shook up the establishment (and believe me, New York is nothing if not an establishment city) and worked harder than anyone before him to make real, positive change (a somewhat laughable, somewhat scary thought to cynical New Yorkers). Eventually though, even before 9/11, he earned the respect of a good portion of the population. His results were basically impossible to argue against, and only the most hysterical leftist saw his overall administration as anything but a real turning point in the city, which had been well on the road to ruin after a truly disastrous term with Dinkins at the helm (who actually beat Rudy on his first time out, and even after ruining the city, came very close to winning reelection against him the second time). Yes, New Yorkers can see the light eventually, but the light has to basically be a ten-thousand watt stage lamp 5 feet from their face, and their eyes need to be held open with toothpicks for at least 3 years. But there is hope.
The larger problem arises, however, when those who reside in the city begin to feel that what they believe works for them must also work for the rest of the country. Add in a sense of hyper-superiority due to 'superior' education/culture/etc., and you have the situation we currently find ourselves in; Elitist east cost intellectuals believing that it is their entitlement to rule over those unfortunate enough to not live within walking distance to Cipriani and The Met.

Don't get me wrong... I love this city. I wouldn't trade it for anything. It truly is one of the greatest places to live in the world, and I am damn lucky to be here. But by virtue of my address, I am not somehow elevated to a level of cultural superiority over those who plant corn in Iowa or herd cattle in New Mexico. And I certanly do not believe that it is my right, or the right of any government to tell people how to live their lives. If I were in charge of this city, I would of course do things very differently, however, the people of NYC vote every four years, and ultimately the people are responsible for their government, especially at the local level. I have serious problems with certain laws here that I feel do not pass constitutional muster (the draconian gun control, for example), but beyond that, it's hard to deny the simple fact that this is a liberal city, and is likely to remain so for quite some time. It has nothing to do with tolerance or cultural superiority, and everything to do with habit and proximity. Trust me, I live here.


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