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November 04, 2004

The blues

A story in today's New York Times takes the pulse, as we say in the news business, of the cultural capital of blue America. For me, this tour of New York is grimly fascinating. It's like a car wreck. Horrible, but I can't look away. Are we all like this? Or did Joseph Berger use an experimental software program developed at the Columbia J school to find the half dozen or so smuggest people in the city? It's like a gallery of those fuzzy New Yorker cartoons brought to life with a wave of Harry Potter's magic wand.

Could they be any closer to stereotype? This riot of "polyglot" humanity includes Zito Joseph, a 63-year-old retired psychiatrist having coffee and cigarettes at a cafe near Lincoln Center. The war on terror? He thinks it's all about us. "None of the people who are likely to be hit by a terrorist attack voted for Bush. But the heartland people seemed to be saying, 'We're not affected by it if there would be another terrorist attack.' " Hey, what about those planes that crashed in Washington and Pennsylvania?

And I can almost hear the soundtrack of Sex and the City playing in the background as Beverly Camhe, standing near Lincoln Center, clutches three morning newspapers (where did all the PMs go? Sigh.) and a large latte while she opines that "New York is an island off the coast of Europe." Actually, Bev, New York City is a group of islands. And Manhattan is an island off the coast of Brooklyn.

Then there's Roberta Kimmel Cohn, a transplant from Wisconsin. She explains that New Yorkers are "savvy ...We have street smarts. Whereas people in the Midwest are more influenced by what their friends say." Right. That's why more than 80% of voters in Manhattan leaned the same way on Nov. 2.

Look, I know the outcome of this election is really tough for a lot of people. I sympathize with them. I do. I do. But I always thought that when you lose a big national election, you're supposed to pause for reflection for at least a moment or two, consider at least the possibility that you might need to adjust your thinking in some small way. Is it asking too much for both sides to be civil? That's what ought to happen, as former Clinton adviser and current Rep. Rahm Emanuel sensibly advises Democrats at the end of a Page One analysis in today's Times: "Part of the electorate came open to what Clinton and Carter had to say on ... health care, the environment, whatever - because they were very comfortable that Clinton and Carter did not disdain the way these people lived their lives, but respected them ... We need a nominee and a party that is comfortable with faith and values. And if we have one, then all the hard work we've done on Social Security or America's place in the world or college education can be heard. But people aren't going to hear what we say until they know that we don't approach them as Margaret Mead would an anthropological experiment."

Demonizing (just slightly more than) half the country in an orgy of condescension and self-absorption doesn't make political sense. And it isn't nice!

03:57 PM

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