Irving Kristol wrote that a neoconservative is a “liberal mugged by reality.” Well, I was “mugged” in New York last weekend, and I’m still a liberal.
Here’s what happened, and it is admittedly less dramatic than a real mugging. I was entering the subway, and my fully loaded ($20) fare card wouldn’t swipe. I turned around, and the man behind me offered to swipe the card. One swipe and I was through. You probably know what happened next. I asked for the card back, and the man looked at me for what I was: a rube. Then he helped himself to another swipe and followed me down the tracks. My embarrassment and anger turned into mild fear. He waved the card close to my face, and as I backed up he came forward. My card in exchange for my money was his deal. I didn’t have any cash, and before it got uglier, he moved away. This little trauma was the only flaw in a glorious weekend.
In the late ‘70s, I had a similar minor brush with crime in New York. I was surrounded by a group of teenage boys who shoved me around a bit and asked for my wallet. One guy took it, emptied the money and threw it on the ground. Another yelled that I was cheap, which made everyone laugh as they went on their merry way. Back then, the city was broken and bankrupt. Basic services barely functioned. Today, it can be hard to imagine. Some things do get much better.
How New York became, again, one of the greatest cities in the world creates interesting political debate. To oversimplify, the “liberal” point of view, perhaps embraced by current Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, is that the city returned to prominence by too often neglecting its poor and middle class. The conservative viewpoint holds that the city improved because it embraced the “broken windows” theory, the idea that if you stop “little” things such as graffiti and purse-snatching, you can restore a respect for order.
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What will the city be like under a de Blasio administration? On my trip, I noticed fewer public displays of policing and more homeless and mentally disturbed people in the streets. Could the liberal mayor be starting a reversal of the city’s emphasis on order? Indeed, his budget rejected a city council request for more police. But it also included more funds for treatment of addicts and mentally ill people and more job training for young adults.
My “mugging” has kept me a clear-eyed liberal. The mayor’s emphasis on treating the causes of disorder while expanding opportunity is exactly right, but he shouldn’t tolerate “broken windows” either.
Carter Eskew is a co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a Democratic perspective, and was the chief strategist for the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.
Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan
Special to The Washington Post