The party’s metropolitan base is committed to ideological insanities it won’t abandon, even when they threaten Dems’ hold on national power.
Well, so much for Eric Adams, the would-be savior of New York City and Democratic Party moderates. Following the horrific Saturday killing of Michelle Go, an Asian woman pushed in front of an incoming R train by a black assailant with a long history of violence, Adams said: “New Yorkers are safe on the subway system. … What we must do is remove the perception of fear.” Don’t be alarmed, folks. Just adjust your perceptions.
Beginning last summer, the former NYPD captain positioned himself as the moderate exception to the Dem mayoral primary’s slate of hard-left activists and de Blasio administration flunkies. The gambit paid off: A coalition of outer-borough white ethnics, sick-of-crime minorities, and tabloid readers sent Adams to Gracie Mansion (his Republican opponent, Curtis Sliwa, wouldn’t have had a shot in deep-blue Gotham even if he weren’t a certified eccentric).
Adams appeared serious in the face of the city’s immediate crises: spiraling crime and gun violence, street homelessness and disorder, public schools that were lousy long before politicians handed unions near-total control in the name of fighting Covid-19. But for many urban conservatives—urban centrists might be the better label—Adams’ triumph signified something more. As the New York Times’ Bret Stephens put it, he was a “godsend” for anyone worried about Democrats “becoming the party of urban misrule, just as they were in the 1970s.”
There is a logic to this line of thought, and it goes like this. As things stand, the GOP is hopeless in metropoles dominated by the new yuppies, people who double-mask outdoors, seriously support de-policing, and use verbiage like “Latinx” and “people with vulvas” (instead of the transphobic slur “women”). The real urban contest, then, is between Dems who cater to such gentry liberals and other Dems, like Adams, who voice the common sense more likely to be found at the Bayside bodega than the Soho boutique.
Adams had a further appeal for urban centrists: namely, that he was a familiar figure of New York machine politics. Someone who’s been around as long as Adams has, it was said, will have woven an intricate web of clients and patrons, of favors owed and favors due. Machine politics, in their own way, bind a man to the givenness of things and condition him against utopianism. A guy like that would never embrace lunatic radicalism.
Candidate Adams seemed to sense all this and campaigned accordingly. He leaned into the anti-crime pitch especially hard following an incident last June in The Bronx, where a gang-banger opened fire on a rival while two kids, ages 10 and 5, took cover nearby. In response, Adams put up $2,000 of his own funds toward the capture of the assailant. The emotion he displayed at the news conference seemed sincere (and likely was). He sounded similar notes through the rest of the year, cementing his status as the tough-on-crime alternative and converting more than a few skeptical urban centrists to his cause.
Then he took office—and things almost instantly soured. In just his first two weeks, Adams has…
- tapped his own brother, a former NYPD sergeant who’d been working as assistant director of parking at Virginia Commonwealth University, to serve as deputy police commissioner for government affairs, drawing a salary of $242,000 a year; when pressed, the new mayor claimed, preposterously, that his brother would be in charge of his personal security “at a time when we see an increase in white supremacy”;
- lent support to a City Council bill that would allow some 800,000 legal, noncitizen migrants to vote in local elections, making a mockery of the privileges of citizenship;
- signaled that he is open to remote learning in public schools, despite having vowed to defend in-person learning during the campaign—a foolish move that can only invite more intransigence from teachers unions;
- and, relatedly, called United Federation of Teachers boss Mike Mulgrew his “good friend” with whom he shares “emotional intelligence,” allowing the pair to solve problems together (eye roll, please).
That last move is especially pathetic, given that Mulgrew specifically instructed his voters not to vote for Adams. In other words, Adams owed Mulgrew absolutely nothing, yet he chose to kowtow to a figure responsible for denying schooling to some of the city’s neediest, most vulnerable kids.
So what are the lessons here for the urban centrists?
For starters, look closer. Seth Barron of the Claremont Institute, for my money the sharpest and most knowledgeable observer of city affairs, was one of a very few conservatives who remained skeptical of Adams while others swooned. He pointed to Adams’ history of racial opportunism, including his association with Al Sharpton and the Nation of Islam and his concord with anti-anti-crime prosecutors, to suggest that “the return to normalcy” the mayor promised may have been an electoral mirage.
Second, beware of low expectations. Yes, it’s probably better that Adams is governing the Big Apple, rather than one of the truly fire-breathing woke crusaders. But the lesson of Adams’ first two weeks is that the merely corrupt machine type may not make much of a difference in an otherwise hostile ideological environment (and, again, Barron’s reporting reminds us that Adams himself may not be nearly as pragmatic as others thought).
To cut through such an environment takes an iron commitment to sanity that’s all too rare in today’s Democratic Party. The party’s metropolitan base is committed to ideological insanities it won’t abandon, even when they threaten Dems’ hold on national power. If Adams were the second coming of FDR, and he isn’t, he couldn’t withstand these forces. The wiser course, then, is to allow the woke furies to consume the party while working to build a governing conservative-populist alternative. Trying to play ball with the likes of Adams is a fool’s game.
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