Bill de Blasio, the Sponge of Woke Platitudes

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio attends the dedication of the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island, May 16, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

De Blasio seems to think he’s running to be the ringleader in a heist movie, but he’s really a sad sack trying to catch up with the cool crowd.

Dear Reader (Including all of the Democrats not running for president. Let’s have lunch),

And then there were 24.

Of course, you normally don’t say “And then there were X” when the number increases. You’re supposed to say it in such situations as when your softball team has been kidnapped by a Moldovan blood-sport ring. You sit in your dank holding cell beneath the streets of Chisinau, watching as your buddies are taken away in ones and twos to fight to the death with tire irons and shovels for the amusement of the Moldovan illuminati until it’s just you and a once-pudgy, urine-soaked accountant who’s become a lean, death-dealing gladiator and has decided the only way to survive is to accept that this is the only life he knows. You hear the outer door open and see burly men drag the bloodied corpses of both your former first baseman and your centerfielder and dump them in the corner. Then one of them comes to the gate of your cell and says “Si apoi au fost doi” — Romanian for “And then there were two.” A macabre grin appears on the accountant’s face.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. There are now 24 Democratic presidential contenders, give or take any who may have announced since I emailed this to NRHQ.

One of the things I find amusing is how each candidate must come up with some unique qualification for why they should be president that sets them off from the others. Some are just platitudinous — Joe Biden’s experience — but some are awfully niche:

Cory “Almost Spartacus” Booker says he’s “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community” in Newark.

Michael Bennet says, “I have a tendency to tell the truth to the people I represent in Colorado and I want a chance to do that with the American people.”

Kirsten Gillibrand explains that what sets her apart is the fact that “as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.” She’s 52, by the way.

John Hickenlooper is going for the crucial magical-realism bloc. “I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done.”

At this rate, I think the 30th candidate will say “I’m running for president because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do, it’s usually something unusual.”

Oh, I left out Bill de Blasio, who says that his unique contribution is his bully-fighting superpower. Of course, that’s not his only superpower, he also has the ability to make evidence of his superpowers invisible to the general public. It’s a very niche superpower.

De Blah-sio

I have a fair amount of confidence that after today, I won’t need to write about Bill de Blasio again, save perhaps in passing, à la: “The overflow from the Biden event was so large, the crowd butted up against the dunk tank, where another 2020 hopeful sat, unable even to persuade the locals to throw the ball at the target. After an hour, he remained dry, save for the heavy coating of sweat drawn from the beating midwestern sun and more than a few of his own tears drawn from anticipation of the political beating to come.”

Now, I don’t want to get locked-in; he could say or do something so spectacularly dumb that I will be compelled to comment — occupational hazards of the pundit trade and all that — but that will be a judgement call, not a necessity. As I suggest in my column today, I think he’s a remarkably unserious candidate. Yes, that’s been said in this space about other candidates, one of whom is currently in the Oval Office, but say what you will about Donald Trump, he had a gift for drawing contrasts with other candidates.

(Before I continue, I love sentences like that. Years ago, a friend of mine came up with a bunch of statements one could say about the GOP that would sound positive to people who wanted to hear something positive and negative to people who wanted to hear something negative. One example he offered: “With Ted Cruz, the GOP finally has the leadership it deserves.” I’m not a Cruz basher, but I still find that funny. “Donald Trump has a gift for drawing contrasts” makes me chuckle, too.)

The reason it is very unlikely that de Blasio will replicate the success of Donald Trump in the Democratic primaries is that he cannot offer any contrasts that matter. He isn’t entertaining, he’s tiresome. He isn’t charismatic, he’s unctuous. He talks like the president of a small liberal-arts college, spouting clichés plucked from a flier on an assistant professor of Peace Studies’ door. He seems convinced that the glassy expression on the faces of the students and faculty in the audience is awe, not a soul-numbing tedium that is a few desperate heartbeats away from resorting to self-harm just to feel something again.

That’s not to say there aren’t interesting things about the man. His habit of sleeping late is amusing, even charming. The possibly unfounded rumors that every day is 4/20 at Gracie Mansion are fun. His honeymoon in Castro’s Cuba is so on the nose that Tom Wolfe would have cut it from an updated version of Bonfire of the Vanities (perhaps renamed Bonfire of the Chronic). The fact that he married a lesbian is legitimately fascinating, though I’m not sure how it will play in certain quarters of the left given that converting gay people to heterosexuality is not as popular as it once was.

Stork v. Ferris

But the most interesting — and disturbing — thing about de Blasio is that he is such a conventional politician. In my column, I argue that he’s a Ferris Bueller — someone who jumps in front of an existing parade and thinks he’s actually leading it. I’ve used this analogy before, and I have a longtime reader who always emails me — including this morning — to say I’m getting my movies confused. He thinks I’m talking about Animal House, specifically this scene with Stork (played by Douglas Clark Francis Kenney, one of the co-founders of National Lampoon):

But this is wrong. When Stork takes over the parade, he actually does take it over, leading the entire marching band into a dead-end alley. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Stork, sir. And Bill de Blasio is no Stork. De Blasio is a Bueller because all he does is lip-sync the words to someone else’s song and dances for the crowd.

And that’s what I mean about what’s disturbing about de Blasio. There is not an original bone in his body. He’s a sponge of woke platitudes, acquired over a lifetime of shared pleasantries with disgruntled left-wing academics, activists, red diaper babies, and rent-control Maoists. The sponge is boring. But what he’s soaking up is more than a little terrifying, because it reveals what’s in the atmosphere around him. After all, the conventional wisdom is that de Blasio is frustrated that the Democratic party has moved leftward toward his worldview, and he’s not getting credit for being there first.

The very first words of his presidential announcement video — i.e. the central message of his campaign — are: “There’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Let that sink in, like a cliché through the blood-brain barrier in de Blasio’s skull.

Bumper-sticker socialism

When Proudhon said that “property is theft,” he had something of a point. He wasn’t talking about all property, but land specifically in the tradition of Roman law. And if you check the video of history, you could find more than enough evidence to make the case that the land owned by aristocrats and royals was taken from somebody else at some point.

Marxists took the phrase “property is theft” — which Marx himself criticized — and turned it into “capitalism is theft.” This incredibly stupid aphorism — no doubt tattooed between the shoulder blades of some Antifa thug (the irony that it was paid for with the red blood cells of capitalism, money, was probably lost on him) — is predicated on the Marxist idea of the “surplus value of labor.” This potted notion holds that all of the value in a widget comes from the workers on the widget assembly line. The inventor of the widget, the investor in the inventor’s idea, the managers and engineers who figure out how to make the factory cost effective, and the salesmen who hawk the widgets add no value. So all of the profit from each widget sale is theft from the laborer.

I don’t want to get even deeper in the weeds (“Did someone say ‘weed’?” —Hizzoner). But among the myriad ways this idea is ridiculous is that the ultimate value of a widget is determined by the price it can fetch on the market. Without a market, it has no real price. And without a price, there is no possibility of profit, or even compensation for labor — unless the state decides to take resources from someplace and reward unproductive labor. That’s how real socialism works, which is why socialism is theft.

Which brings me back to de Blasio’s spongey sputum. The idea that there’s “plenty of money” to do the stuff we want and it’s just in the wrong hands is literally the logic of the bank robber. Its pernicious radicalism is stunning on the merits, but it’s all the more gobsmacking that a banal political opportunist sees political opportunity in spouting it. I know I keep quoting Wayne Booth’s definition of rhetoric — “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe.” But the idea that this is something a conventional Democratic pol should say is incredibly disheartening. When Bill Clinton admitted that the government could return the budget surplus to taxpayers, but that this would run the risk of taxpayers spending the money the wrong way, it was considered a modest gaffe. It worked on the same assumption of de Blasio’s — that “the money” out there belongs to the government, and what you get to keep is a question left to the politicians. But de Blasio takes it further. Because at least Clinton was talking about money that was already in the treasury. De Blasio seems to think he’s running to be the ringleader in a heist movie.

That de Blasio is seen not as a radical fringe candidate but a sad sack trying to catch up with the cool crowd is a damning indictment of the Democrats, but also of defenders of the free market for being unable to foster a climate where such statements would be seen as the insipid prattle of an irrelevant stoner.I would be more impressed with de Blasio if he were a Stork, but I find him more worrisome because he’s a Ferris.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: Not much to report this week. The struggle to keep the beasts clean amidst all the rain has been particularly intense. The mud and surging creeks are just too much to resist, particularly for the spaniel. This means going to the hose more often and occasionally the full shampoo job. The main problem here is that there’s a little-known rule in the Human-Canine Compact of 12,000 b.c. (subsequently modified and amended) that if you over-bathe dogs, they will punish you by rolling around in extra awful stuff, like deer poop, dead things, etc. Both Zoë and Pippa have exercised their rights under this clause this week, and they made no apologies for it. As I think I said last week, I am heartened by the fact that some folks on Twitter are confessing that they are actually on #TeamZoë. I mean, the dogs don’t care. One of the defining features of doggy goodness is that they don’t care about such things. Still, I sometimes feel bad for Zoë, who in many ways is a vastly more interesting creature than Pippa. I love them both, but Pippa is a girl of very simple tastes, emotional states, and desires. Zoë is full of mystery and contemplation But what’s very weird for the Fair Jessica and me is how so many people now think Zoë is so “chill” and “mellow.” I understand why folks think that, but it’s just funny, because for the first few years Zoë was easily the most difficult dog we ever had or even knew. It took years of training and mellowing to get to the point where she reliably comes when called and doesn’t get into trouble. I sometimes miss the wild child, until the memories come flooding back in. And then I realize how much better off we are now.


Last week’s G-File

A follow-up to my G-File

Bill Barr didn’t break the law

My appearance on the Acton Institute podcast

This week’s first Remnant, from and about Chicago

The second Remnant with incoming AEI president Robert Doar.

The latest GLoP Culture podcast

On Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Monday links

Debby’s Friday links


Concrete explosion

Best places to find Bigfoot

Cool find

Kids these days


Barr’s bagpipes

And I found you, flightless bird…

Black ball mystery

The words people look up on Mothers’ Day

Dr. Strange and Medieval alchemy

What color is a tennis ball?

Doris Day heroics

Penis probe

Stress balls being destroyed

Endgame behind the scenes

How starfish walk 

Stories from the set of Mad Max 2

And from The Mask

Free cats

Misplaced Uranium

Getting your citizenship at McDonald’s

Dnieper River from space

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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