Jonah Goldberg

The new mayor of New York City is a Red Sox fan. According to the rules of the New York I grew up in, I'd expect to see the Hudson turn into a river of blood and Zabar's to close due to a locust infestation before that happened.

But if De Blasio's remarkable rise proves anything, it's that the rules can change. A liberal's crazy liberal, De Blasio still waxes nostalgic about the noble struggle of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, for whom he raised money in the 1980s. He violated the ban on travel to Cuba for his honeymoon with his formerly gay wife, and he often talks as if he's handing out literature in Union Square for the former left-wing New Party, for which he used to work.

For conservative pundits, he's the Austin Powers of pre-Rudolph Giuliani urban liberalism, a near perfect throwback thawed out for our amusement. Social justice is his bag, baby.

But for those of us born and raised in pre-Giuliani New York, he can also conjure images of Charles Bronson in "Death Wish," the gritty vigilante flick that symbolized the city in that era.

Vincent Cannato, a historian at the University of Massachusetts, wrote the definitive book on John Lindsay, the mayor of New York from 1966 to 1973. Cannato's book "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York," tells the story of liberalism's now-forgotten golden boy. Charming, improbably handsome, resolutely liberal and Republican (until he switched parties), Lindsay had the dubious distinction of overseeing much of New York's horrific decline into legal, fiscal, racial and moral chaos.

Lindsay's defenders are legion in New York. In their minds, everything was going great and then, suddenly, when Lindsay left office, the place went off a cliff overnight. Cannato says that whenever he appears at an event to discuss his book, the Lindsayites swarm to defend their hero. One of their primary talking points is the fact that Lindsay fulfilled his vow to "throw open the city to producers from Hollywood," ushering in a renaissance in New York filmmaking.

And it's true. But just look at the movies born of Lindsay's efforts: "Taxi Driver," "The French Connection," "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," "Panic in Needle Park" and other films depicting a rotting Big Apple -- a "voluptuous enemy" with "the stench of Hell," to borrow a phrase from Pauline Kael's review of "Taxi Driver."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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