There seems to be a rhythm in history where societies pull themselves together and make great efforts to improve and then grow tired of the effort and let things slide back to where they were before.
Thus things are going in New York where twenty years of Republican mayors are drawing to a close and the city, which has prospered to unprecedented levels under them, is about to slide back into its former lassitude under liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio.
There simply aren't enough Rudy Giulianis and Michael Bloombergs to go around. All the Republicans have been able to come up with is Joe Lhota, a competent, pragmatic politician who has all the right ideas, says all the right things, and has zero charisma. He will probably get 25 percent of the vote on November 5. This is, after all, a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1.
And so the bad old days may be coming back. There isn't one element of progress made over the past 20 years that de Blasio isn't ready to undo.
Let’s start with crime. In 1992 New York was experiencing 2,200 murdered a year. In Harlem children were being put to sleep in bathtubs so they wouldn’t be hit by stray bullets coming through the windows. Moreover, it seemed like this was the way things would always be. Conventional liberal theory said crime was the result of poverty and since there would always be poverty, there would always be crime. All the police could do was stand around and keep count. Giuliani defied everyone by implementing James Q. Wilson’s "Broken Windows" hypothesis and began enforcing “quality of life" crimes, cracking down on panhandlers and street corner drug dealers, making the streets safe for ordinary people. The rest is history. Just as Wilson predicted, public order was restored. Frightened people came out of their houses and began populating streets and parks, putting hundreds of witnesses and defenders in the way of crime. Suddenly the criminals had to deal with a whole population instead of just a police force. Crime rates eventually plummeted all the way back to1960s levels and, incredibly, New York became the safest city in the country.
The problem is the one aspect of law enforcement that liberal find intolerable -- “stop and frisk,” the aggressive police tactic for getting guns off the street. About 90 percent of shootings take place in black neighborhoods so naturally enforcement has concentrated in these precincts. But liberals operate under the assumption that police tactics should be applied uniformly across the city, with as many elderly grandmothers frisked for weapons as young street hoodlums. The good old ACLU-NAACP combo has gotten the case before sympathetic federal judge Shira Scheindlin, a standard New York liberal who would probably tell you that such police tactics led to the Holocaust. She has ordered stop-and-frisk to stop and instructed the police to seek counseling from a panel of college professors who would nurture them into the proper way to patrol the streets. Good luck, New York.
De Blasio has jumped aboard this bandwagon, making stop-and-frisk one of the central platforms of his campaign. (To be fair, so did every other Democrat.) He is your standard community organizer/nonprofit-employed/government-employed liberal who had an early romance with the Sandanistas. He was running neck-and-neck with such luminaries as Anthony Weiner and city comptroller Bill Thompson, who is African-American, until he ran an ad celebrating his son’s afro. De Blasio’s wife is African-American. This swung the black vote behind him -- previously they had been enamored with Weiner’s shady adventures -- and de Blasio never had to look back. He will probably get 75 percent of the vote.
Not only is de Blasio running a campaign to turn the police back into passive spectators but he has reached back into the playbook of the 1930s and the 19th century to proclaim New York “Two Cities,” the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, and la-de-da-de-da. Of course New York has its rich people but they are all limousine liberals, eagerly embracing transsexualism and Yoko Ono’s campaign against fracking and expansion of the government whenever and wherever it may occur. The only Republicans in New York are the hard-pressed homeowners in Queens and Staten Island, working in construction or the police department. If New York is really “two cities,” one of them must be awfully small because the only rich people de Blasio has identified are the elusive “1 percent” whom he wants to carry the city on their back for the next four years. No one living in ultra-liberal Park Slope, de Blasio’s home territory, where townhouses sell for a million dollars, could possibly consider themselves “rich.”
So de Blasio’s winning theme is that he wants the 27,000 taxpayers making over $500,000 to ante up $27 million so he can start a city-funded pre-kindergarten program. Isn’t that sweet? Do you think that money will end up anywhere but in the coffers of the teachers’ union? Is taking children out of their homes and sending them to school at age 4 instead of age 5 the secret to improving education? Yet already “the rich” are being stereotyped as the obstructers of all that is right and good. “These are the same people who raise $80 million in a single night at a benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation dinner to support charter schools in New York City,” scoffs Diane Ravitch on Huffington Post.
Yet that’s where de Blasio may to run into trouble, if not at the ballot box at least when he starts trying to turn the city back into a public-employee ward. Because there have been changes since Giuliani/Bloomberg took office and some of them have taken root. There were 17 charter schools in New York when Bloomberg took office. Today there are 183. Last Tuesday thousands of parents and students marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s proposal to pull the rug from under the charter school movement by charging them rent where they have been given space in public school buildings. The parents and children marching on City Hall were not the sons and daughters of the rich. They were almost 100 percent black and Hispanic, as are the 70,000 students now in charter schools.
Oh well, those people will just have to be “educated” to the notion that everything the government does is good and everything that private enterprise does is bad, the way President Obama is doing in Washington. To “You didn’t build that” will have to be supplemented by “You didn’t learn that.” But de Blasio may not find the going so easy once he takes office. If crime rates start climbing again -- as they almost certainly will with more guns on the street -- it may be possible, just possible, that people in minority neighborhoods will recognize that law enforcement works to their benefit as well. And once the attempt of everyone to live off the rich falls flat, some citizens may even recognize that it doesn’t hurt to have a few banks and investment houses around to provide employment and pay reasonable taxes instead of having them all decamp to the suburbs and Connecticut, as many of the hedge funds have already done.
New York is not going to become another Detroit or even another Chicago. The private economy is still too strong for politicians to suffocate everything. But people who remember how bad things were in the 1970s and 1980s can only hope that they don’t have to become that bad again before voters elect another Republican mayor.