Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mayoral Myopia

More and more, we see the media focusing on the personal shortcomings of Mayor Mike when it comes to exhibiting basic empathy for distressed New Yorkers. From our vantage he demonstrates the classic liberal attitude (think of the old Progressive movement types) of placing a general concern for People over any attachment to the feelings of real human beings (more in line with the populists). It reminds us of a line from Managing Mailer, Joe Flaherty's wonderful memoir of the 1969 mayoral campaign.

When Mailer, and his running mate Jimmy Breslin, were visiting a liberal democratic club on the Upper East Side they presented the group with a proposal that called for giving people greater control over their everyday lives. The response from some "blue-haired matron" was the following, and we paraphrase: "But Mr. Mailer, you don't understand, it's all about what we can do for them."

This kind of an attitude is generally hostile to listening to the points-of-view of the folks who are the object of any particular policy. It goes hand-in-hand with an elite paternalism that elevates expertise over any grass roots input. All of which is embodied in the mayor's approach to reforming the education system. Hiring one of the biggest parent critics of the reform effort-for $150,000 per year-doesn't change this basic approach, certainly not at this late a date.

We can see this growing crescendo of criticism in today's papers. Errol Louis' column is representative of the questioning of the mayor's aloofness. When asked about why he didn't stay in the city and take care of, well, the spiritual needs of his citizens he replied; "I'm not a firefighter and I'm not a doctor, and I can't find housing for people, but I have people in place to do that..."

Louis goes on to say, while not attributing the sentiment directly to the mayor, that all of our efforts at "enriching ourselves" can isolate us from our less well-off neighbors and leave us "hopelessly isolated, emotionally and spiritually poor." This is the genesis of all of the "tin ear" commentary of how the mayor's aloofness is "grating" on the city. Given this political turn it may not be long before directly confronting the mayor will be seen as a smart political move; and slavishly following in his path the kiss of death, and a quintessential mistake.