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City Journal Winter 2006.
Winter 2006
Table of Contents
In  P rospect

“I knew her before she was a virgin,” Oscar Levant famously said of Hollywood’s girl next door, Doris Day. One can’t avoid the same thought regarding Senator John McCain’s snow-white purity about campaign-finance reform. His effort to wipe off any taint from his (apparently peripheral) involvement in the 1987 Keating Five influence-peddling scandal seems as if he doth protest too much—as if he hopes we’ll believe that “the system is to blame” for any politician’s wrongdoing, rather than the choices of the politician himself. And so we have the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform, not only a thoroughly unconstitutional limitation of free speech but also a utopian effort to exorcise baseness and self-interest from politics that would have made the Founders snicker.

As Brian C. Anderson explains in the eye-opening “The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly”, campaign-finance laws, especially McCain-Feingold, are now having a malign unintended consequence, as Democrats wield them to try to muzzle the hugely influential new media world of talk radio, cable-TV news, and the blogosphere. In very short order, these outlets have ended the monopoly on U.S. political discourse that the liberal mainstream media, headed by CBS News and the New York Times, so long enjoyed. Now conservative views get an equal hearing, with tremendous political consequences, possibly including George W. Bush’s reelection. Apoplectic at its loss of power, the Left, rather than trying to debate these new media, is trying to smother them, in such a flagrant attempt to suppress free speech as would make the Founders weep.

If a crusading politician like McCain really wanted to take on the country’s deepest political corruption, he’d look to the antidemocratic stranglehold that the public-sector unions and their allies—the new political machines—have over state and local government, which have become mere engines for fleecing the taxpayers. Steven Malanga has analyzed this new development in the City Journal stories that make up his influential book, The New New Left. In “What Bloomberg Could Still Accomplish,” he takes up the theme again, in the context of New York City, whose billionaire mayor, despite owing the unions nothing, nevertheless shied away from confronting them in his first term, out of a deep dislike of conflict. That failure has limited his freedom of action in his second term, now commencing, because the cost of so many overpaid public “servants” threatens big budget deficits out ahead. Even so, Malanga suggests some low-conflict ways Bloomberg can begin to rein in some of these costs during the next four years, a move crucial for the city’s future. It’s especially critical, as Nicole Gelinas explains, because Gotham has become ever more dependent on Wall Street, its premier industry, just when Wall Street is less and less dependent on New York. The city’s high costs have already driven much financial-industry employment out of town, and there’s a limit to how big a premium what’s left of the industry will pay to stay here.

State and local governments used to make an impassioned case for the moral necessity of shaking down the taxpayers, but they’ve increasingly lost confidence in their redistributionist, “social justice” rationale. A good thing, too; for, as Kay S. Hymowitz points out in “Marriage and Caste,” though there really are two Americas, one rich and one poor, it’s not because of any economic or racial injustice. It’s because children born and raised in married, two-parent families are on average much more likely to succeed than children brought up by divorced or never-married mothers. Cultural renewal, not social services, is what’s needed to promote prosperity for all—the American version of equality.

Reading Michael Knox Beran’s profound analysis of Isaiah Berlin’s thought, “Was Liberalism’s Philosopher-in-Chief a Conservative?”, makes one realize just how much genius went into the construction of the left-liberal worldview that caused so much damage to social policy and cultural values over so many years. With that failure in mind, it’s hard to disagree with Robert P. George’s eloquent plea, in “What Colleges Forget to Teach”, to bring back the study of the Founders, in all their neglected wisdom and profundity.

 

 


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