One of the good news stories from yesterday’s off-year elections in the US was the election of Bill de Blasio as the new mayor of New York City. It’s odd that people seem to think he’s the first progressive mayor New York has ever had…this is the city of Fiorello LaGuardia, after all, as well as the city of Robert Wagner, of John Lindsay and of David Dinkins. But people have short memories, these days. At the national level, people seem to think history began with Bush and ended with Obama, and at the level of New York City, people seem to think that history began with Giuliani and ended with Bloomberg. So the celebration of Gotham’s Left is understandable, because many feel like their city has never had a left-wing mayor.
This neophyte perception gap on the part of the New York City electorate can be easily contrasted with the I’ve-been-a-radical-for-ages mentality of Tom Hayden, who writes this article for the Guardian about de Blasio’s victory. Hayden, the former Students for a Democratic Society radical who later served as a long-time state senator in the state of California, reacts to de Blasio’s victory with a sort of calculated celebration. Hayden’s happy someone like de Blasio won, but as a movement radical, he is all ready to bolt if de Blasio shows any signs of not walking on water and completely curing every ill in the five boroughs.
Hayden positions himself so he’ll be right no matter what happens. If de Blasio is less impressive than expected, Hayden can remind us he said “Will de Blasio adhere to his promises? He is, after all, a mainstream Democratic party operative and policy wonk who once managed Hillary Clinton’s centrist campaign for the US Senate.” On the other hand, if he is that rare breed of transformative politician, Hayden can say he knew him when, without risking commiting entirely to him. “De Blasio won’t represent the 99%, but a healthy majority will do.”
I wish we had fewer of this kind of “I-got-your-back-sort-of” radical pundits. I can accept that Hayden feels like liberal pols have disappointed him before, but this article makes him look like he’s standing near the exit just so he can be the first to leave if there’s trouble, and that really doesn’t instill confidence in this leader he is saying is the “harbinger of a new populist Left”.
I’m reminded of the behaviour of a lot of movement lefties in 2009 after Obama had been elected. I had one friend who started calling Obama a fascist the minute the election was over, and a few others who started their campaign against him the minute the names Summers and Geithner were uttered (though they were surprisingly unconcerned to hear the name Hillary Clinton uttered that same day, “centrist” or not). No one needed to see any specific actions of the new administration – they were all ready to condemn just from that. Possibly some of them had the idea to do that from the beginning, to take the hope generated by the Obama 2008 campaign and turn it as quickly as possible into despair at the slow pace of change – and ultimately to some variant of either nihilism or physical force pseudoradicalism.
So yeah, we’re all happy that de Blasio won…and I expect that to last for five minutes. If he does anything to make some hardened radical feel even mildly uncomfortable, the conditions of this game will change drastically.
I have a wacky idea – instead of waiting near the exits, why don’t _we_ commit to doing everything we can to help politicians like de Blasio succeed at this whole business of transformative change. It’s a lot nicer than just standing about waiting for him to blow it in order to prove one’s own personal street cred.