What to make of Senator Ted Cruz? He is a very, very smart man who apparently believes that the median Republican presidential primary voter is very, very dumb. There’s some evidence for that proposition — Donald Trump still leads in the national polls — but Cruz’s strategy rests on the proposition that these voters will enjoy being condescended to. He may very well have chosen the most effective strategy.
Senator Cruz is very much hardwired into the current us-and-them mood of the electorate, Right and Left, and though he is a creature of Princeton and Harvard Law whose household long has been sustained by a Goldman Sachs paycheck, Cruz is keenly interested in giving the impression that there exists a vast cultural chasm between himself, the champion of what some populists like to call “the Real America” — as though Ronald Reagan of Hollywood, J. P. Morgan of Wall Street, and Bill Gates of Harvard weren’t real Americans — and the wicked Washington-based elite. Cruz is an outsider to the extent that a member of an Ivy League eating club (have someone explain it to you) who went on to be a member of the nation’s most prestigious lunch club, the Senate, can be an outsider. He is a Texan, albeit a Texan from the anodyne suburbs of Houston, which could be the suburbs of anywhere. He didn’t grow up baling hay in Muleshoe.
Sneering at New York values isn’t very smart for conservatives. Not in the long run.
Courting the boob vote, Cruz is campaigning as a boob, a project complicated by the fact that there is a much bigger boob in the race: Donald Trump. Cruz, an affluent Ivy Leaguer, needed to distinguish himself from Trump, a very rich Ivy Leaguer, and what he came up with was: “New York values.” A Republican presidential candidate need not trouble himself too much about New York’s votes in the Electoral College, and Trump himself had used the phrase to characterize his many departures from the traditional conservatism of the Republican party, of which he is a freshly minted member. Cruz, canny politician that he is, never bothered to go into much detail about what is meant by “New York values.” Sneering at them was enough.
But sneering at New York values isn’t very smart for conservatives. Not in the long run.
#share#It has been said that you cannot understand America without understanding New York City, and the first thing to understand about New York is that it isn’t very much like the rest of America. That is true, unquestionably. But New York’s traditional virtues — its brashness, its hustle and enterprise, its anything-is-possible attitude — are the traditional American virtues, just as the city’s vices — its materialism, its self-importance, its fascination with the transitory and the impermanent — are the American vices, too. Conservatives, of all people, should be more attuned to the virtues of the nation’s commercial center; let the nation’s art-school dropouts sneer at that great collision of money and culture. The city has been the incubator of our best minds — Buckley, Friedman, Podhoretz, Kristol — and is home to great conservative institutions from The New Criterion and the Manhattan Institute to this magazine. Ayn Rand, who didn’t understand people but had a great and admirable capacity to be arrested by the beauty of human achievements, loved New York as only an immigrant can.
To the extent that “New York values” is another way of saying “urban values” — and it is, to a great extent — conservatives would do well to develop a keener appreciation of them. (Never mind, for the moment, the notion that Donald Trump’s values are identical to the values of New York, in which he is a figure of fun rather than a figure of respect.) From a matter of pure self-interest, Republicans would be in much better shape if their presidential candidates did not start in an electoral hole, with California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois wrapped up in a bow for the Democrats. It isn’t California ranchers and Illinois farmers who have handed those states to the Left, but city-dwelling people who believe with some reason — Ted Cruz has just given them another — that Republicans hate them.
Urbanites are not entirely pleased with the Democratic monopolies that govern most of them.
Our cities are disproportionately black, but they are not disproportionately Martian. Our cities have many immigrants, but not immigrants from the Land of People Who Don’t Care About Their Kids and Really Like Paying High Taxes. Ask a black Democrat in the Bronx working to support a family whether he’d prefer to make more money or less, to keep more of his money or less, to have more economic security or less, for his children to have more educational opportunities or fewer, and he will give the same answers as any plaid-panted Brooks Brothers specimen haunting the Merion Cricket Club — or any white oilman running a fracking rig in the Eagle Ford shale. His values are New York values, too.
When Ronald Reagan was elected, 74 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities; today it is 82 percent. From 2000 to 2010, the nation’s population grew by 9.7 percent — but the city population grew by 12.1 percent. And those urbanites are not entirely pleased with the Democratic monopolies that govern most of them: In Flint, the Democrats are literally poisoning the children; in Atlanta, the schools are so corrupt that teachers and administrators had to be sent to prison; elsewhere, urban Americans are literally up in arms (Molotov cocktails, at least) over their treatment at the hands of the city powers they interact with most often: the police. New York City is sliding back into pre-Giuliani chaos.
And what are Republicans doing? Sneering at “New York values,” when they should be seeking to satisfy the best of those values, such as the entrepreneurial spirit and the hunger for advancement — which are, after all, the best of American values, too.