The failure of most of the Democratic leadership to take equally bold positions and point out the racism in Ferguson and disappointing brings with it the same feeling of deja vu as the shooting of Michael Brown does. For at least the last two decades, the Democratic Party has been defined both by being party of African American and an extraordinary timidity when it comes to speaking out about racism. In this regard, the relative silence of both Obama and Clinton is not surprising and is unfortunately exactly what is expected. Our inability to recognize and discuss racism is one of the things that ensures the survival of that racism, and the likelihood that there will be more Michael Browns, more Fergusons and more politicians avoiding taking tough, and perhaps unpopular, positions.
The last time New York was governed by a Democratic mayor, it was a very different place. When David Dinkins took office in 1990 maybe 1,000 New Yorkers had an email address, people who rode bikes were considered weird even by progressives, racial tension was at the center of city politics and climate change was known as global warming and was not an issue anybody but a few scientists and environmentalist discussed. Most significantly, the people in the city were very different, age replacement, immigration and other population movements have changed the city a great deal. Joe Lhota learned this the hard way as he and former mayor Rudy Giuliani sought to scare people by painting a fear mongering and inaccurate picture of Dinkins, a mayor who many New Yorkers don't remember at all.
Even if Weiner and Abedin had no connection to Clinton, it would be hard to watch Abedin's support for her husband and not think of Hillary Clinton's support for President Bill Clinton during the various sex related scandals during and before the Clinton presidency. Hillary Clinton has a long record of accomplishment since she and her husband left the White House. Should she run for president, that is the record she will want to highlight. Anything that brings attention away from that record and back to the worst periods of the Clinton presidency is bad for Hillary Clinton. That is precisely what this scandal is doing now.
Weiner entered this race knowing there would be more revelations about his online conduct while simultaneously arguing that since he has reconciled with is wife, we the voters should forgive him too. The initial coverage of Weiner reflected this angle which, along with his name recognition, contributed to his impressive poll numbers. This was a mischaracterization of why Weiner's conduct is so troubling. This scandal was never primarily concerning Weiner's personal life and relationship with his wife. The real issues in the scandal are Weiner's serial dishonesty, unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and extraordinary self-absorption. Again these are characteristics that are not exactly in short supply among politicians, but more extreme in the case of Weiner.
Before Weiner won his seat in Congress he was also in the City Council, but during his time in that legislature he was more known for his ambition than for a progressive record or any real accomplishments. His time in Congress was defined more by his outspoken progressive views than for any particular legislative accomplishments. This, on its own, is not unusual. Many elected officials are ambitious, and there is a need for people who are strongly partisan in congress. However, they also do little to make Weiner the kind of person who is likely to be a good mayor. Since leaving the City Council, Weiner has not been involved in many local issues, other than taking the standard progressive positions. The one New York issue for which he is best known is his strong views against bike lanes. Cyclists are a contentious issue in New York, but Weiner's comment to the mayor, who for all his ample faults is a supporter of cyclists, that he wants to "tear out your f*cking bike lanes," does not seem to reflect a progressive approach to environmentalism or urbanism.
Every image of a New York City or Oakland policeman abusing his position, every story about how a veteran or senior citizen was injured by one of these policeman, every image of a university police officer casually pepper spraying a few college students doing nothing more than sitting quietly at a demonstration damages the ability of the U.S. to influence people and governments around the world and provides fodder for those authoritarian leaders who would like to ignore American entreaties before killing or beating up demonstrators in their own countries.
It would be inaccurate to link the current American decline too directly to the events of September 11th. This would be giving Bin Laden too much credit. Had there been no attacks, it is certainly possible that the Bush administration would still have led the country into damaging and extremely costly wars, perhaps even in Iraq. It is almost certain that the Bush administration would have sought to cut taxes and found ways to spend money thus creating the debt-related problems the U.S. now faces, but this might have happened more slowly or less dramatically.
Voters in New York City yesterday were confronted with a new voting system for the first time in about a century. While I had always liked casting my vote for Barack Obama and other recent candidates on the same type of machine, and perhaps even the same machine, that my grandparents used to cast their votes for Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia, not everybody shared this view. The new technology used on Tuesday generated some controversy as voters struggled to figure them out, glitches occurred and many were confused. Michael Bloomberg, the city’s mayor, referred to Election Day with the new machines as “a royal screw-up, and it’s completely unacceptable.”
While Orton’s story is one of personal heroism and vigilance, it is also a reflection of the often overlooked resources that can help America combat terrorism at home. Most critically, Orton’s actions are possible because of, not in spite of, the freedoms that Americans still enjoy. Times Square is not what it used to be, but there is still enough activity on the street that somebody like Orton can sell t-shirts. Moreover, even though police abuses and abuses of civil liberties connected to fighting terrorism are serious problems in the U.S., people like Orton still feel comfortable enough to call the police when they notice something of concern. This is no small thing because in less free countries, contact with police is something to be avoided at all costs, even if failing to do so could cause others harm.
The Democratic Party in New York, because it really is almost everything to almost everybody, has no ability to enforce party discipline in the senate, or to defeat candidates who do not represent the views of the party. Excessive ideological rigidity is not a great situation either, but without some discipline, parties are almost meaningless.
The mayoral election of 2009 does not look like it will be as exciting as any of those great campaigns. Instead incumbent mayor Michael Bloomberg will likely get reelected for a third term without much difficulty. While we New Yorkers can lament that we are not getting the great drama we like to see in our mayoral election, there might be a broader message in this election for both major parties. Bloomberg, while registered as an independent, has been an on and off Republican since he first ran for mayor in 2001, and will be that party's nominee again this year. New York is, of course, a heavily Democratic city, but if Bloomberg wins, for the first time in our history, we will have five consecutive terms of Republican mayors. To look at it another way, the last time the city elected a Democratic mayor was 1989 a year when Barack Obama was a law student; the Soviet Union still existed; and a blackberry was a fruit. Further, there have been not one, but two terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center since a Democrat was last elected mayor of New York.
I try not to be a myopic New Yorker who sees the world entirely through the lens of New York City, but when I saw Rudy Giuliani and John McCain together at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, it occurred to me that McCain could make a lot worse choices for running mate than our former mayor. Giuliani, is a compelling mixture of positives and negatives and would be a risky pick as vice-president. However, lost in all the obvious negatives is that there is a potentially very large upside to putting Giuliani on the ticket.