Editor’s Note: In a recent issue of National Review, Jay Nordlinger had a piece called “Freedom from Fear, for Now: A personal reflection on living in New York.” This week, he has expanded the piece on this site. For the first three parts of the series, go here, here, and here. The series concludes today.
If you’re a reader of the conservative press — I thank you for it, by the way — you tend to know the bad things about Michael Bloomberg. Bad from a conservative point of view.
He banned smoking in bars and restaurants, which you may not like. He banned or curbed trans fats. (I’m still not clear on what they are.) He has tried to limit the size of “sugary drinks.” And he is a notorious advocate of gun control.
“Nurse Bloomberg,” we call him, or “Nanny Bloomberg.” But as a New York resident, I don’t especially care: I don’t especially care about his nanny side, annoying as it may be. I care that he is a bold, smart, unflinching crime-fighter.
Bloomy is not a Goldwaterian. He has also been a godsend to New York.
In a July editorial, we at National Review called him a “prissy little autocrat.” Fair enough (sort of). But I must tell you, I like Bloomberg’s personality — like it for New York. For the mayor’s office. The mayor of New York ought to be a tough, vinegary SOB. Bloomy is, or can be. I have never met another politician like him.
I met him just once, at the Buckleys’, for an editorial dinner. Tell you a funny story. As we were leaving, I said to the mayor, “I appreciate the way you’re standing up to the teachers’ union.” And he started to argue with me: “They’re just looking out for their interests, as is their right,” etc.
Honest to goodness, we stood there, in the vestibule, arguing about whether Bloomy deserved credit for his stance toward the teachers’ union. I had never before met a politician who would not accept a compliment, and I have not met one since. I suspect I never will.
Every politician is ingratiating — it’s a tool of the trade. Bloomy is not. He is whatever the opposite of ingratiating is. I liked him for it.
There is a legend about that editorial dinner, a legend I’m afraid I have to rain on. The legend goes that Pat Buckley lit up a cigarette and blew smoke in the mayor’s face. Not true. Not true at all. The legend began the very next day. I heard it. But it isn’t true.
Toward the end of dinner, Pat lit up. There were titters around the table (given Bloomberg’s reputation as an anti-smoker). Pat, looking startled, turned to Bloomberg and said, “Is it all right if I smoke in my own home?” Bloomy, annoyed — annoyed at the titterers, who had created this scene — made a helpless gesture and said, “Of course.”
Like it or not, Pat did not blow smoke in the mayor’s face.
At the end of yesterday’s installment, I said that, in New York, I’m pretty much a one-issue voter — and that issue is crime. Next to it, nothing else matters, really. Everything good flows from an orderly, safe, livable city. Everything bad flows from disorder, unsafety, and unlivability.
If you have to look over your shoulder, if you can’t use the parks, if you can’t go out at night, if you have to move out of the city — who cares about the size of sugary drinks?
I once heard Rick Brookhiser say something amusing about Rudy Giuliani: Rudy would go door-to-door performing abortions. He would go door-to-door presiding over gay weddings. But, you know what? Hardly anyone has been better at stopping bad guys.
(Not at stopping abortionists, true.)
Let me commend to you a brilliant essay by Myron Magnet, writing in City Journal — here. He says everything that needs to be said. And he says it with unsurpassed expertise, experience, and power.
What is a New York mayor’s job? he asks. To ensure (to the extent possible) freedom from fear. That is the whole enchilada: freedom from fear. Everything else is trivial, by comparison.
If you’re looking for gurus on New York, look to Myron Magnet and Heather Mac Donald. They know everything. If New York were run according to their lights, it would be an earthly paradise. Under Rudy and Bloomy, it has been pretty damn good . . .
Lately, Democrats have been screaming at Bloomberg for a policing technique known as “stop and frisk.” They are screaming that the technique is racist. Like Giuliani before him, Bloomy is simply taking the abuse. And talking back to it. A Democratic congressman complained, “The mayor has shown no willingness to rein in the NYPD.”
The words “rein in the NYPD” should send a chill down the spine of everyone who lives in New York. There was a time, not very long ago, when the NYPD was good and reined in. And criminals ruled.
It appears that New Yorkers will elect, as our next mayor, the Democratic nominee, Bill de Blasio. He is a true-believing leftist. A supporter of the Communists in Latin America. The whole nine yards.
One reason they will elect him, I think, is that they have no memory of the bad old days. And they have no idea what it took to turn New York into the delight it is today — the delight it has been for 20 years or so.
As Myron says, New York is “always a city of newcomers.” How many voters moved here during the Rudy-Bloomy golden age? Lots, no doubt. They probably think the state of harmony is normal.
Other New Yorkers know better. And some people think that New Yorkers at large will never go back — will never again “tolerate the intolerable,” to use Norman Podhoretz’s phrase. They have seen the lights of Paree: a safe, livable, lovable New York. And they won’t go back to the farm.
I don’t believe it. People can be convinced to tolerate the intolerable. Convinced they have to. After all, it happened before.
And everything Giuliani and Bloomberg have done is reversible. None of their gains is permanent. The barbarians are always at the gate. They are never vanquished, permanently. They may be kept at bay for a while — but they wait to be allowed back in.
What can reverse our reign of peace? A mayor who submits to racial bullying. A government that is complacent, inattentive — that lets New York’s guard down. “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.”
There was once a common sign in New York. People put it in their cars, when they left them on the street: “No Radio.” It was a sign of helplessness and hopelessness. As Commissioner Kelly remarked, it said, Don’t break into my car. The one behind me, maybe, or the one in front of me. But not mine, pretty please.
How pathetic. And how utterly accepted it was. I have never seen, personally, a “No Radio” sign. Ever. I moved here in 1998, remember — well into the Giuliani renaissance. Will that sign come back? (I don’t know if cars have radios anymore — as they did pre-Giuliani. But they must have something.)
As I said at the end of my magazine piece, the least important thing about New York is my relation to it. My enjoyment in living here. New York does not exist for my personal amusement. There are 8 million people in the city, all with their own fish to fry.
But everyone has an interest in freedom from fear. And it has been so lovely to live here.
One more thing: I imagine that, if things turn horrible and desperate again, people will turn, once more, to a Rudy — eventually. But it should not have to take that. You could have harmony (relative harmony) all the time, if you wanted to. In a democracy, the people really do rule.