Forget foretelling the future; it’s often hard enough just to perceive the present, and rare is the magazine article that can describe an important shift in reality just as it is solidifying into existence and altering the makeup of the world. City Journal has had its share of such stories, but we are especially excited that this issue brings you not one but two such perception-altering pieces.
Start with our cover story, Brian C. Anderson’s “We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore”. It is a staple of right-of-center journals that the Left has control of the culture: how many books and articles have you read (some in City Journal, too) complaining that the networks, the New York Times, the newsweeklies, the big publishers, and the universities have a stranglehold on opinion and news, so that conservatives can’t get a hearing and don’t get a chance to correct the misrepresentations and distortions of the Left even on matters of fact? And until just recently, that has been dismayingly true. As Anderson himself has written (“Illiberal Liberalism,” Spring 2001), opinion makers on the Left have gotten used to not even having to argue against conservative opponents. They could just wave them aside contemptuously, as not meriting discussion—too outside the mainstream.
No more. Over the last five years—and especially since the Iraq war—three great changes in mass communications have ended the Left’s monopoly. On cable TV, Fox News has almost overnight wrested away from the networks a large and loyal audience for its smart, urbane coverage, which, while striving far harder than the networks to tell the objective truth, also makes no bones about its conservative principles. Also on cable, comedians and cartoons gleefully (if rudely) jeer at political correctness nightly, to the delight of numerous young viewers unlikely to embrace left-wing shibboleths with much solemnity in the future. Meanwhile, dozens of conservative Internet sites post a constantly updated barrage of news and opinion that eloquently presents the conservative take on the world, that shapes stories even before the New York Times can write them, and that effectively calls the big dailies and weeklies to account for their distortions and evasions. Book publishers, noticing from all this that a healthy market for conservative opinion exists, have poured out a flood of right-of-center books, which, promoted through the web and cable TV, and cheerfully sold by the chain bookstores, have succeeded resoundingly, regardless of what the Times Book Review may say.
The Left splutters that a cabal of right-wingers has seized control of the media, which lying liars of the Right now dominate, and which can only be countered by setting up left-wing counterparts to Fox and Rush Limbaugh, as if Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, not to mention the Times and the Ivy League, didn’t already exist. All of which is to say that healthy debate is back. Get used to it, brethren on the Left.
Our second pathbreaking story, Steven Malanga’s “Who Runs New York?”, began as an in-depth exploration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposal that Gotham adopt nonpartisan municipal elections, like Los Angeles. The more Malanga looked into the Progressive reformers of a century ago who first proposed this idea and the hundred or so cities that actually have such a system, the more he realized that nonpartisan elections are a non-issue. They make no difference. More important, he realized that they were the answer to the wrong question. The mayor had proposed a solution to a problem that hasn’t existed in New York for decades—and no commentator seemed to grasp that.
Sure, New York’s municipal politics are askew, and the system is as much a conspiracy against the public as the Tammany vultures and tigers that Thomas Nast caricatured in the Boss Tweed era. But party bosses no longer run New York; the public-sector unions and the social-services organizations that live off the public purse now control Gotham’s political system, with the Democratic Party serving only as their instrument, not their master or patron, though that shift remains largely invisible. To change the system requires first understanding what it really is, not what it seems to be; and Malanga’s profoundly insightful article trains a searchlight on that hitherto obscure, and intensely unattractive, reality—ripe for reform.