A Tale of Two Cities

Posted: Feb 01, 2007 12:01 AM
A Tale of Two Cities

NEW YORK CITY -- New York, New York, wonderful town. The Betty Comden/Adolph Green lyrics are a syncopated serenade to the Big Apple. Nobody would write a song like that about Washington. I love my native Washington, but it's still a provincial suburb compared to New York, with neither a Battery nor a Bronx even though we can now "ride in a hole in the ground."

In New York it's the absence of the Twin Towers that haunts its inhabitants. The terrorists of September 11 hit the Pentagon and aimed at the Capitol, missing by 200 miles, but the Islamist pigs (no offense to Porky) who targeted New York were aiming at American cultural, not political, domination. The Islamists hate our politics, our wealth, our president, our military and our democratic ideals and traditions, and most of all they hate the creative ferment of New York City. They hate that Gotham appeals to all the American appetites, literally and figuratively.

One Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda first thrived, famously drew the distinction between them and us. "The Americans lead lavish lives and they are afraid of death," he said. "We are not afraid of death. The Americans love Pepsi Cola. We love death." (And we were told Coke is the real thing.)

New York is the city most animated by the life force. Standards of measurements for how we live in New York and Washington are as different as Fahrenheit and Celsius, Ford and Chevy, the Cowboys and the Redskins (or for an earlier generation, as different as Macy's and Gimbels). New Yorkers come and go, chattering about Michelangelo as if he's one of them. Washington has several of the finest museums in the country, but only rarely does a dinner party conversation revolve around any of their exhibitions.

Ask any friend in the power capital what he's reading and you'll get only titles about politics, the presidency and foreign affairs. Who's in and who's out refers to Congress. A party is about Democrats and Republicans, not about where to revel. And why hasn't the Electoral College ever been invited to the Rose Bowl?

At a New York dinner party, arguments are likely to be about Norman Mailer's newest novel, debated earnestly, as if it matters. Is it his best since "The Naked and the Dead"? Washingtonians figure a book with that title must be about Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Nobody in Washington takes time to read either long fiction or short novels. Everyone from Capitol Hill to Georgetown was surprised that George W. took "The Stranger," by Albert Camus, on his vacation. That was for a sophomore, not a senator (who would assign an aide to read it, anyway).

Hillary Clinton is the junior senator from New York but she's much more of Washington than from New York. Her fashion and coiffures have improved since she moved up from Arkansas, but she's still a stranger to the super chic manner of Manhattan. The liberals who are her natural constituency like her well enough, "but she can't win." They offer the usual litanies about her "baggage" (more likely to be Samsonite than Louis Vuitton), but it's clear they don't consider her one of them. She's more Hollywood tinsel than Hell's Kitchen grit. No one doubts her intelligence, but every time she says she's "middle class" from the "middle of the country," New Yorkers cringe.

If Martha Stewart is the "Wicked Witch of Westchester," as New York magazine calls her, Hillary is "Sappy Happy Face." Her famous listening tour worked when she ran for the Senate, but her breathy "conversation" doesn't inspire followers. FDR she is not. Nor is she Rudy Giuliani. Her "gender" has nothing to do with it -- except when it comes to talk of her marriage, and there's lots of that.

The New York Post poked the usual tabloid fun with its coverage of her boasting to Iowans that "I can handle 'evil, bad men,' " headlining it, "Joke's on Bill," and illustrated with a photograph of the former first lady pointing her finger at "bad-boy hubby." But the question nevertheless lingered over the barren cornfields of the Iowa winter. What in her background is there to make anyone think she could actually deal with the evil and bad men in Tehran and Pyongyang? She says she was only taking the advice to "lighten up," but the moment underlined the problem "Bill" will pose from now to November next. Hillary's story is not so much a tale of two cities, but a tale from the Land of Oz.