The first lesson to take away from Bill de Blasio’s first-round victory in the Democratic primary and then nearly fifty-point landslide in the general election is that it is quite possible none of it would have taken place but for an early television ad starring his son, Dante. That ad introduced many voters to de Blasio’s diverse family, and he never looked back. The power of presentation seems much better appreciated on the left these days than the right.
More important, however, is the conventional wisdom slowly building about de Blasio’s intentions once in office. The New York Daily News’s insightful opinion editor Josh Greenman tweeted his instinct that de Blasio will treat crime prevention in New York the way Barack Obama treated anti-terrorism policy: “that pragmatism will trump principles to ensure security.” His column on the election, published at about the same time, expanded a bit:
While too much political friction brings paralysis, too little presents the opportunity for major mistakes. For the good of the city, de Blasio has to see this danger coming. He needs to get used to saying no to his friends, and even turning some of them into enemies. …
Similarly, de Blasio, who has made a career of channeling complaints about the NYPD, will soon be the commander-in-chief of those armed forces, responsible for driving the murder rate lower and holding the line on quality-of-life crimes.
Deep down, despite all his criticism of Bloomberg, de Blasio knows: If he loses a handle on crime, the jig is up.
Indeed it is. De Blasio is unlikely to get himself a second term if he reminds New Yorkers of the bad old days of crime. But what’s more interesting, and no doubt frustrating to conservatives, is the fact that progressives who run on dismantling successful security policies get elected because these days, voters just don’t believe them. Maybe it’s the Obama effect: years of shamelessly vilifying the American national-security establishment turned into obsessive targeted assassination, the surveillance state on steroids, and a third and nearly a fourth new military engagement in the Middle East once Obama grasped the levers of power.
There’s a certain amount of condescension in this view, probably unwarranted with regard to both Obama and de Blasio. Obama has always seemed to understand the difference between foreign entanglements, as he sees them, and domestic security. His tech-heavy campaigns and nanny-state addiction to control foreshadowed his policy agenda. For his part, de Blasio is an experienced political operative who has worked for both Clintons in New York–and for David Dinkins, whose failed mayoralty resulted from the last time New Yorkers elected a Democratic mayor.
De Blasio capitalized on the public’s Bloomberg fatigue, but even the outgoing mayor, having been a campaign target, told the New York Times after the two met post-election that he wasn’t sure de Blasio was silly enough to govern as he campaigned:
Still, Mr. Bloomberg offered a hint that his successor may find governing a metropolis to be slightly more complicated than the more abstract terrain of a political campaign.
“He’s got to make his own decisions,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Some things will look easy, and then he gets into them, he’ll find them more difficult, and maybe he’ll change his mind.”
There’s that condescension again, as the Times translates Bloomberg’s message: governing is “slightly more complicated” than not governing. De Blasio is getting the Obama treatment at this point. The true liberal governing agenda is so reckless that most people on the left just assume liberals are making empty promises, and those on the right hope they are.
It’s the strange reality of post-9/11 politics, and a testament to the success of figures like Rudy Giuliani. New York has suffered through periods in which it was difficult to imagine the city at or near its true potential. It is now difficult for New Yorkers to imagine that mindset, thanks in large part to the public servants who helped rescue the city from the Dinkins era. It is characteristic of this new confidence–which borders, at times, on a very un-New York complacency–that few are willing to believe a progressive will govern as a progressive, that liberalism is fun in theory but there are too many lives at stake to put it into practice.