The Left Is Dead
February 11, 2001
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A headline in this morning's New York Times magazine blares that "The next mayor will inherit a city where the left is dead." Sound too good to be true? Sure enough, not only is the left still alive, it is still writing for the New York Times magazine, at least to judge by this Sunday's offerings. Indeed, it is a measure of just how entrenched is the leftism at the Times that the newspaper can set out to write an article declaring the left dead, interview and quote non-leftist policy experts like Fred Siegel and Myron Magnet, and still wind up with a characteristically misguided, inaccurate and at times just plain silly screed.
The lead anecdote concerns the Rev. Calvin Butts, who the article would have us believe is essentially a fan of Mayor Giuliani. Somehow the Times magazine neglects to mention that in May of 1998, Rev. Butts openly called the mayor a racist. "I don't believe that he likes black people, and I believe that there's something fundamentally wrong in the way we are disregarded, the way we are mistreated, and the way our communities are being devastated," Rev. Butts said at the time, according to a report in the Times. He added, "If these policies are not checked, and if the people who enjoy democratic liberties do not speak up and out, we could see ourselves moving toward a fascist state in New York." Even if Rev. Butts no longer takes such a hard line toward Mr. Giuliani, the Times magazine article would be stronger if it took this history into account.
Then the Times writes, "as the mayor's second and final term draws to a close (term limits preclude a threepeat), the city is about to be inherited by someone of a very different temperament." In fact, this term is not necessarily Mr. Giuliani's "final" term as mayor. The term limits provision in the city charter technically allows Mr. Giuliani to run for a third term if one full term or more has elapsed since he last held office; in other words, he will be eligible to run for mayor again after taking four years off.
Then, here's the way the Times article handles the controversy over the Brooklyn Museum's showing of a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant dung and festooned with photos of naked crotches: "He tried, notoriously, to defund the Brooklyn Museum of Art as punishment for showing an exhibition he deemed offensive." Well, it wasn't just the mayor that deemed the exhibition offensive, but Cardinal O'Connor and many of the city's Catholics, who reasonably wondered why their hard-earned tax dollars should be subsidizing this. The mayor's efforts to prevent such a subsidy may have been notorious among the not-so-dead left at the Times, but they were appreciated elsewhere in the city.
The Times article goes on to paraphrase a left-wing homelessness agitator who asserts that "polls show that 80 percent of New Yorkers would like the city to invest in more housing and services for the homeless." No specific poll is cited. Nor does the Times cite any results of polls in which New Yorkers were asked, say, "would you like the city to spend more on housing and services for the homeless, even if those homeless are able-bodied yet refuse to work, and even if spending that money means that your taxes will be higher and that the homeless will have less incentive to get jobs and become self-sufficient?"
The article goes on to say, "Giuliani hasn't killed compassion, but he has exposed its inadequacy as policy." This totally misses the point. Mr. Giuliani's point is that it is compassionate to make the poor work, because it gives them the tools to become self-sufficient. Giving the poor systematic and ongoing government handouts while asking nothing in return is not compassionate; it is actually harmful because it creates perverse incentives.
Then the article claims in a tone of moral outrage that Mr. Giuliani "tried to privatize the public hospitals that poor New Yorkers count on even for basic medical care." Despite the article's claim, this shows nothing about the mayor's "insensitivity to poor New Yorkers." What should matter is how good is the medical care poor New Yorkers get, not whether the care is provided in a hospital that is run by the government. Such subtleties are lost on the Times.
The measure of how out-of-touch with New York the Times is is that it sends its magazine writer on a field trip to "Flatbush, a largely Caribbean neighborhood in central Brooklyn." The Times describes it as if it were some little-known and exotic nation in central Africa. Smartertimes.com is waiting for the next time the New York Times refers to the Upper West Side as "the Upper West Side, a largely white neighborhood in central Manhattan." Even with the description, the Times seems to fumble its way around Flatbush. To call it "largely Caribbean" is a vast oversimplification; there are lots of Jews there, and plenty of Koreans, as well. The Times goes on to assert that Canarsie is "immediately to the southeast of Flatbush," which is just false, according to the authoritative 1998 book "The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn." Canarsie is immediately to the southeast of a largely Caribbean neighborhood called East Flatbush, but East Flatbush is different from Flatbush. Again, a subtlety that seems to be lost on the Times.
Smartertimes.com is sorry to have to rattle on at this length and in such point-by-point detail about this magazine article, but it's actually an important story, by a big-name writer, about an important topic. And the errors and oddities just keep piling up.
One of the most hilarious clauses in the magazine article is this one: "Immigrants have been arriving in New York in very large numbers since 1965." Has the Times ever been to Ellis Island? Immigrants have been arriving in New York in very large numbers since the city was founded; while there have been variations in the immigration laws since then, it seems strange to not make any reference to the vast waves of pre-1965 immigration that most New Yorkers are familiar with.
In another attempt to portray Mr. Giuliani as callous toward the poor (an attempt right up with the swipe at the mayor for the sin of attempting to privatize hospitals), the Times notes that "The number of food pantries has actually increased, to 1,150 from 750." The Times actually tries to use this as evidence of rising hunger, or rising want, or the continued plight of the poor. But the number of food pantries tells nothing about the level of hunger in the city. The 1,150 food pantries could be consolidated into five and the same amount of food could be distributed. If the number of food pantries in the city had decreased under Mr. Giuliani, the Times would no doubt see it as evidence that his administration was cutting back on feeding the poor. As it is, the increase is seen as evidence that there are more poor.
The mayor just can't win. The article finally comes out and accuses him of having a "highhanded and heardhearted brand of politics." The Times accuses him of having "ignored the critical shortage of housing." This is silly; there wasn't as bad a housing shortage until the mayor came along and cleaned up the city and reduced the crime rate so much that there aren't enough apartments for all the people who now want to live here. Anyway, since when is it the mayor's job to provide housing for everyone? Isn't that a private sector issue?
While attacking the mayor for faults that are not his, the Times, typically, gives the mayor credit for achievements in areas in which he hasn't done enough. The Times refers, for instance, to "Giuliani's draconian line on the budget." That is absurd, given that the city's budget has gone from $21 billion in 1995 to $27 billion in 2001, including a hefty 7% increase in 1997, an election year. The Times also says the mayor "began to implement cuts in a wide range of taxes." It is true that he has tinkered with a wide range of taxes, but the overall reductions have been relatively paltry: a mere $2.5 billion estimated for 2001.
First Jewish Mayor: An obituary in today's New York Times of Abraham Beame states that he was "the city's first Jewish mayor." That's probably overstating it; Fiorello La Guardia, who was mayor from 1933 to 1945, had a Jewish mother, and many Jews claimed him as one of their own.
Innuendo Watch: This is from the lead editorial in today's New York Times: "A central player in all this, Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, was in direct contact with the president."
Ill-Advised: The second New York Times editorial today is about Iraq. "The Bush administration's initial action on Iraq was an ill-advised decision to assist opposition groups inside Iraq, even though they have little chance of undermining Mr. Hussein," the Times writes. Refusing to help an opposition group because it has little chance of success is a kind of self-reinforcing, circular and defeatist illogic. If the opposition group had certain chances of success, it wouldn't need help. The same line of argument could have been used to argue against French intervention on behalf of the American revolutionaries and against American support for Solidarity in Poland. The Times doesn't even bother to seriously grapple with the rollback strategy in its editorial today, preferring to simply label it "ill-advised."
The Times View of Jimmy Carter: Here's a gem from a book review in today's New York Times, about a memoir by Jimmy Carter: "the boy whose story it tells grew up to be not just president of the United States but one of the great Americans of our time." This is probably overstating it; in any event, the article doesn't make a coherent case that Mr. Carter is "one of the great Americans of our time," it just asserts it, as if any reasonable Times reader would agree.
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