Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Totalitarians of New York
New York City mayors excel at banning everything from salt to carriages, but they are not very good at cleaning up the streets after a snowstorm.
There are two ways of looking at any major city; as a mechanical problem of buildings, streets and sewers whose infrastructures need to be maintained or as a social problem of misbehaving people. The mayors of the mechanical problem understand that they need to clean the streets, but the mayors of the social problem think that they have to fix the people.
Mayor Bloomberg flubbed the snow challenge badly. Instead of preparing road salt, he banned salt in restaurants. Instead of having a snow strategy for the winter, he had a Global Warming strategy for the next fifty years. Instead of doing his job, he kept trying to transform the people.
And his successor is no better.
Bill de Blasio’s focus after his mean-spirited inauguration was a ban on carriage horses in Central Park at the behest of a real estate developer who backed his campaign and has his eye on their stables, a tussle over who will get the credit for Pre-K with Governor Cuomo and the beating of Kang Wong, an 84-year-old man, over a jaywalking ticket.
The media had lavished praise on Bill de Blasio after his first photo op shoveling snow and celebrated his call to implement Vision Zero, a Swedish plan to cut traffic fatalities to zero, even though there was no remote possibility of reducing traffic fatalities to zero in a major city filled with cars, pedestrians, cyclists and even pedicabs.
Instead of preparing for the snow, Team De Blasio launched a crackdown on jaywalking in Manhattan where three-quarters of the residents don’t own cars. And so the Upper East Side, which didn’t vote for Bill de Blasio, became a snarled and unplowed mess and the jaywalking enforcers put an 84-year-old man in the hospital after arresting him for the tall order of “jaywalking, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct.”
Jaywalking is as much a part of New York as salty pretzels and the carriage horses of Central Park. While Bill de Blasio claimed to be inspired by Mayor La Guardia, the latter had an entirely different view of the relationship between the people and the city government.
“I prefer the happiness of our unorganized imperfection to the organized perfection of other countries,” La Guardia said after vetoing a jaywalking bill, and added, referencing the growing fascism in Germany that was then admired by many progressives, “Broadway is not Unter den Linden.”
The happiness of unorganized imperfection is about as close to expressing the contrast between the American and the European way of life as any phrase can. It’s also a foreign idea, not just to Bill de Blasio or Bloomberg, but to the larger political culture of urban progressives who are less interested in making the trains run on time, than in making the men and women run on time.
Mayor La Guardia was responsible for much of the city’s network of roads, bridges and tunnels that were built around the social changes in how people lived. From the disastrous ObamaCare websites to California’s light rail project, modern progressives squander billions on unworkable infrastructure that is supposed to fix social problems by changing how people live.
Modern progressives think that it is easier to change people than to change infrastructure. The classical city shaped infrastructure to accommodate how people lived, while progressives use infrastructure as a tool of social change to bully urban residents into changing how they live.
Bloomberg did this in blunt fashion by eliminating elevators to force people to get in shape by using the stairs and by blocking off streets to force people to abandon cars and use public transportation. Instead the number of cars in the city increased and so did the obesity rate.
Progressives are adept at politically manipulating people with propaganda, but this skill doesn’t translate well at the policy level. Obama won over younger voters, but can’t get them to enroll in ObamaCare. Politics is an abstract for most people. Policy is a reality. Politics is the image they want to have. Policy is how much money they have in the bank.
Bill de Blasio unrolled his Vision Zero plan for eliminating traffic fatalities by the year 2024 surrounded by the grieving mothers of dead children. It was a shameless performance that would have made even Piers Morgan wince. No one in the media pointed out that Bill de Blasio, like Obama, was using human shields to silence questions about a result that he can’t deliver.
Team De Blasio could have stopped far more accidents if it had prioritized the snowstorm. Instead there were dozens of accidents as cars slipped on sheets of ice. But the dirty business of cleaning the streets is never as appealing to progressives as glamorously rolling out a new policy.
Accepting unorganized imperfection is not a progressive trait and the assault on Kang Wong won’t be the last collision between Bill de Blasio and the ordinary people who will have to live through four years of his incompetence and abuses. The victories of the left are a master class in totalitarian tyranny and progressive failure, but too many voters disassociate politics from policy, judging candidates based on their media profiles, until they feel the effects of their policies.
Obama’s approval ratings did not implode until the voters actually experienced ObamaCare for themselves. Every conservative warning had fallen on deaf ears as Americans kept supporting a celebrity politician until the consequences of his policies caught up with them.
In Toronto, Rob Ford’s approval ratings have lifted after a snowstorm and he is on track to win reelection despite admitting to drug and alcohol abuse. The voters are making their decision based not on his ugly media profile, but on how well the snow got shoveled. It’s something that Bill de Blasio, who is better at posing for the cameras with a snow shovel than actually managing a snowstorm, ought to keep in mind.
Progressives are only popular until the people realize that the men and women offering them everything for free can’t clean up the snow, but can beat them bloody and can’t fix their healthcare, but can destroy it. The left wins at politics, but fails at policies. It’s learned to stop looking like Carter, but it hasn’t figured out how to stop governing like him.
When Americans realize that the political choices they make are also policy choices between large sodas, salty pretzels, open market health care and open streets on the one hand or food fascism, DMV health care and bloody faces on the other; they will choose the unorganized happiness of freedom over the disorganized tyrannies of Bloomberg, De Blasio and Obama.