Posted by Jay Livingston
What does “New York” mean?
Previously on “The West Wing,” on the first episode in fact . . .
“That New York sense of humor. . . . They think they’re so much smarter. They think it’s smart talk, but nobody else does,” says the character Mary Marsh. Josh’s demurral that he’s from Connecticut seems a bit disingenuous. Like everyone else in the “West Wing” White House, Josh is incredibly smart and savvy, so Toby’s explanation is more directed at the TV audience.
“She means Jewish.”
Did she? Josh derails that train of thought before Marsh has to answer. What might she have said? Maybe what Ted Cruz said.
Anyone familiar with this scene must surely have remembered it when Ted Cruz used “New York” as a similar kind of slur in last night’s debate.
What does Cruz mean by “New York values”? His initial evasion (“I think most people know exactly what New York values are”) and the laughter of the Iowa Republican audience suggest that the meaning is something everyone knows but would rather not say.
The message is that “New Yorkers” are different. They are not part of what Sarah Palin called “real America.” The next exchange amplifies that idea. “You’re from New York? So you might not [understand].” Again the audience laughs and applauds appreciatively. The joke is that New Yorkers are so not American that they don’t even know how non-American they are. They are like some race of UFO aliens who imagine that they are successfully passing themselves off as humans. But of course the real humans know better.
Cruz then hauls out the “some of my best friends are . . .” trope. “And listen, there are many, many wonderful, wonderful working men and women in the state of New York.” Of course, these people are not “New Yorkers.” They merely live in New York state, far away from the city. These “wonderful working men and women” are different from New York City people, who are not wonderful and apparently don’t work.
Finally, Cruz explains: “But everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay-marriage, focus around money and the media.”
It reminds me of Lee Atwater’s famous quote: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.”
In 2016, you say stuff like “New York values” and “socially liberal” and “focus around money and the media.”
You can’t say “nigger” and you can’t say “Jew.” But you can say, as Cruz did just before Bartiromo asked him the values question, “There’s a reason, when Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer came after our right to keep and bear arms, that I led the opposition, along with millions of Americans — we defeated that gun control legislation.”
There’s Obama and his kind, and there’s Schumer and his kind. And then there are “millions of Americans.” Get it?
In the sci-fi movies, the real humans eventually expose, outwit, and triumph over the alien impersonators. So too, in Cruz-land, Americans, real Americans, will triumph over those others, the “New Yorkers.”
UPDATE January 16
I wasn’t the only one to notice the unstated overtones in Cruz’s remarks about New York values. Maybe the performance was not all that subtle. These showed up in my Twitter feed.