Short answer: it depends on who you ask as well as where the respondent lives.
In recent decades (starting with the ascent of former President William J. Clinton to the White House in 1992), “true” liberals have stood by helplessly as members of both of the nation’s political parties continued to drift further to the right. It’s a popular water cooler topic to discuss the radicalization of the G.O.P. However it’s nearly as important to remember the days when issues such as domestic spying, military drone strikes that end civilian lives and a constant focus on the deficit in the face of high, sustained unemployment would have been political kryptonite for liberals, rather than championed causes.
This column is not the place to debate the multitude of reasons why the left side of the spectrum has drifted so far rightward. They start with a need to win popular elections and end somewhere with the 24-hour news cycle and the instant judgment of social media turning elected officials into paralyzed indecisives.
Into this cesspool of partisan gridlock, where few voices remain to articulate and advocate for the platform of the true liberal waded New York City Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio captured the zeitgeist after 20 years of Republican and “Independent” rule by emeritus leaders Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Just how hot is de Blasio right now? An early September article published by The Atlantic writer Molly Ball characterized the candidate as “a populist progressive and yuppie dad whose son has an awesome Afro.”
But there is much more to de Blasio’s Big Apple appeal than serving as one of the heads of a real-life Modern Family, although his clear devotion to his African-American wife and biracial children ultimately resonated with voters. But post-ballot armchair quarterbacks may want to focus less on money and the message and consider the natural next question. If de Blasio understands the diversity of tomorrow’s family (as of July 2012, the Census Bureau reported that the rate of Caucasian births had fallen to a minority among babies), what else is he able to anticipate?
Many New Yorkers have felt left behind in Manhattan’s decades-long resurgence. Skyrocketing housing prices, preferential treatment for Wall Street and diabolical laws such as the wildly controversial stop-and-frisk have pushed a growing number of middle class citizens to the fringe. And they’re no longer content to sit there peacefully. New York Times writer Michael N. Grynbaum published a story this week entitled Many Black New Yorkers Are Seeing de Blasio’s Victory as Their Own. In it, he observes:
“After the divisive tenor of the Giuliani years, and the deep grievances engendered by the stop-and-frisk police tactics of the Bloomberg era, black New Yorkers are now claiming Mr. de Blasio’s victory as their own. In postelection interviews, dozens of black New Yorkers said that Mr. de Blasio’s personal touch, his biracial family and his pledge to help the working-class and poor had affected them deeply. His victory, they said, was a chance to gain a voice in City Hall after two decades of leadership they viewed as inattentive, distant and, at times, even callous.”
In other words, a populist victory for a populist leader. And for those less fair-minded Republicans who seek minority voter disenfranchisement as a return path to the Mayor’s residence, be warned. The Times piece continues: “Some of those interviewed said they would have voted for him even without his biracial family, citing his staunch Democratic politics and pledge to address economic inequality.”
De Blasio’s surprising and unequivocal victory is both a sign of the coming post-racial times, as well as an indication that the G.O.P.’s careless “47 percent” dialogue made infamous by Mitt Romney is starting to elicit action from the masses so disregarded by the party. Though this sea change and demand for leadership more racially and ideologically diverse may take some time to trickle down to red states and more rural areas, it has begun.