I am a New Yorker in both of the senses of the descriptor. I was born in Rochester, on Lake Ontario in Western New York – a Snow Belt city second only to Buffalo. (When I lived in California, I used to actually miss the stuff.) I now live in New York City as I have for nearly a decade – the New York of New York, the town so nice they named it twice, all that. I’ve seen more minor league baseball games in cities like Utica, Auburn, and Watertown than I have Mets or Yankees games, but now I take the subway to Citi Field. I’ve lived or worked in Chinatown, Little Italy, the Garment District, the Upper East Side, Midtown, and the Upper West Side.
Ted Cruz is not a New Yorker. He was born in Canada, as we have been reminded regularly for the past week or so. He lived there while a young child, moving to Texas before attending college at Princeton and Harvard. Then, he worked in Washington for a few years before moving back to Texas and beginning his political career. The closest Cruz got to living in New York was probably when he was attending Princeton, which is in New Jersey. Maybe he traveled to New York on occasion from Cambridge when he was at Harvard, but he never lived here.
The difference between living in New York state or New York City and simply visiting the city is vast – a chasm. Unless you are entertaining guests or running a particularly painful errand, no one that lives here spends much time in those places that are the only ones most tourists see. It’s like that classic Onion headline: “Woman Who ‘Loves Brazil’ Has Only Seen Four Square Miles Of It.” People who have detailed thoughts about life in New York have not seen New York. It’s like writing a movie review off the trailer.
Then Michael Bloomberg made everything worse. The former mayor, who’s tied with Donald Trump for the number of political parties in which he’s found a home over the years, pushed for a series of policies that tightly linked “New York City” with liberal nanny-statism. When I was in New Hampshire last weekend, I told someone I lived in Manhattan, and he made a joke about getting a big soda. People. That law didn’t even pass. But now New York has joined Berkeley in the public imagination, despite being about as much like Berkeley as Houston is like Calgary.
So Cruz, questioned by a radio host on Tuesday, dismissed Trump’s recent affection for playing “Born in the USA” at his rallies – a dig at Cruz – by disparaging Trump’s roots.
“I think he may shift in his new rallies to play ‘New York, New York,'” Cruz said, “because Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values.”
Later that evening, Fox News followed up.
“They’re not Iowa values,” says Cruz, “and they’re not New Hampshire values.”
First of all, there’s an awful lot of New York state that is nearly identical to New Hampshire in topography, culture and values. If I drop you outside of Glens Falls or I drop you outside of Concord, about the only differentiator you’d see is Yankee hats versus Red Sox ones. Head north of New York City, and you’ll find a lot of conservative Republicans mad at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on gun ownership, heading to church regularly, and apathetic about gay marriage.
But Cruz isn’t referring to New York state. He’s referring to the New York City he saw on “Law and Order” or witnessed from the window of the cab he took down 42nd Street because the train was too complicated to figure out. He’s referring to Democratic politics and political correctness and limits on sodas and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and all the things that the New York Post gets mad about all the time. He’s referring to the cultural values that are mostly only dominant in the wealthier parts of Manhattan – the parts where he goes to fundraise.
That’s not really Donald Trump’s New York, either. Yeah, the guy used to be a Democrat and, yeah, the guy is rich and lives in a skyscraper (that happens to have his name on it), but Trump is a product of the outer boroughs made good. Trump grew up in Queens, for God’s sake – a wealthy part of Queens, but still. Queens. Trump was handed a business and a big bank account by his father, but the attitude that defines Trump is of the less-wealthy outsider forcing his way into the game. It’s the guy who wanted to play across the East River against his father’s wishes. The glitz and glam with which he surrounds himself is the sort of thing that old money Upper East Siders find gauche, which is part of the reason he loves it.
Let’s sweep all of that to the side, though. Let’s talk about New Yorkers.
Like most Iowans and most New Hampshirites, I assume, most New Yorkers – as in people from the city – don’t care all that much about politics. Heck, they probably care less than people from Iowa or New Hampshire at this point. The basic mode of operation in the city is to mind your own business unless everyone is having fun talking about something crazy, in which case you join right in. A lot of people thought Bloomberg’s sugary beverage limit was stupid, too – and Bloomberg, who is very much a New Yorker, didn’t care. Bloomberg didn’t care about term limits. Did. Not. Care. In a way that was partly about being super-rich and partly – maybe more – about being a New Yorker. New Yorkers can’t be the tough, gruff people that are rude to tourists and bad drivers and namby-pamby bleeding hearts who want to impose their values on the rest of the country. You can’t have it both ways.
I extend a sincere offer. Mr. Cruz, I invite you to come to New York and live in a small apartment in an unfancy neighborhood for a month. I invite you to come and figure out your favorite bodega and which train car to get in to optimize how quickly you can get back out of the station and to wait in line for a doctor at one of the city’s many weird health-care facilities. I invite you to experience New York City and learn about New Yorkers beyond the people who pay $2,700 to shake your hand or who offer you water in green rooms.
If, after that, you think that our values are abnormally leftie compared to those of Iowa City (which backed President Barack Obama by 35 points in 2012), we’ll accept your critique demurely.
Ha ha, no. We won’t care.
Philip Bump writes about politics for The Washington Post weblog The Fix. He is based in New York City.