They Live Among Us
For quite a long time now the New York Times crowd — you know of whom I speak — has talked about red-state America as if it were another country, one that, in cultural terms, is much farther away than London or Paris, never mind L.A. or Seattle. The shorthand to make this point usually includes mention of Pauline Kael’s endlessly quoted — and misquoted — 1972 line that she can’t believe anyone voted for Nixon because she didn’t know anyone who voted for Nixon (the actual quote is less damning, but you get the point). But the trend is much older than that. Back in the 1920s, The Nation ran a regular series, “These United States,” where the sophisticates would mock the inhabitants of the American interior. That renowned equine posterior Sinclair Lewis remarked of his native Minnesota: “Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly!
Of course, Minnesota was a reliably liberal state back then. But in recent decades, geographic snobbery had melded with political snobbery. Manhattan liberals still look down on flyover country, but they also consider Republican voters as a class to be the sort of people who use their sleeves as napkins as they eat their lunch on the back of a turnip truck.
Well, there’s good news for Maureen Dowd and others who are eager to disparage those whackadoo wahoos inhabiting the hinterlands but find the trek out to quote-unquote America so exhausting. The hinterlands are getting closer.
New York’s 9th congressional district, the most Jewish district in America, just turned into a mini–red state. It’s a 20-minute drive to Forest Hills from the Times’s midtown offices. Just tell your car service where you’re going, he’ll know where it is. Heck, your driver probably lives nearby. NY-9 has been in the hands of Democrats since the 1920s. It’s sufficiently liberal to have sent Geraldine Ferraro, Chuck Schumer, and, most recently, Anthony Weiner to Congress, and to have given Al Gore 67 percent of the vote. Barack Obama got 55 percent.
Now, I’m not trying to gloat excessively here. Sufficiency is all I’m going for. Just a couple of years ago, a very nice and smart fellow at the Times wrote a book called The Death of Conservatism that, as its name suggests, argued that the jig was up for the Right. Now poor Mr. Tanenhaus is like one of those Roman poets getting news that the Goths have set up shop in Marcianopolis. I mean, it was one thing when one of the barbarians captured Senator Kennedy’s seat, since for many New Yorkers, Massachusetts remains something of a provincial backwater. But this is looking like a trend. They’re in the city limits! And — oh, dear Lord — they’re . . . Jews!
NY-9 victor, Bob Turner (Spencer Platt/Getty)
As one wag on Twitter put it, if this continues, the Republican party is in danger of becoming a regional rump party — in the Northeast.
Yes, yes, one can over-read all of this. It certainly doesn’t spell the end of the Democratic party or the “Death of Liberalism” or anything of the sort.
But what it should do is deal a significant blow to “endism,” or the tendency to take a given moment and draw an infinitely straight line into the future. In 2008, the air was thick with bloviation about the unstoppable liberal realignment. Young people were now permanently in the Democratic camp. Hispanics were forever lost to the GOP. Conservatism was dead. “Their coalition no longer works in the changing demography of the day, and is dangerously old; their Southern strategy . . . has become a relic of the past; their tech and media tools have not kept up with the times; their ideas have become spent and discredited. . . . They are an aging and frayed bunch, living off the fumes of a day and politics gone by,” proclaimed Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg in 2008. This wasn’t analysis, it was wishful thinking on steroids.
The NY-9 election is just one data point among a large number of data points. Does it signal the long-anticipated rightward shift of American Jews? Does it foretell the doom of the Obama administration? Yes! No! Maybe! We’ll just have to wait and see, because if a Republican can win in Forest Hills, anything is possible.