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“I’m a liberal, but…”

August 28, 2012

I thought this last week’s New Yorker cover was okay, although I suspected that illustrator and avid motorist Bruce McCall meant it as a mild jab at the mayor’s push for a cleaner, calmer, and safer city.  Then I read McCall’s explanation and realized there was nothing mild about it:

“When I heard about Bloomberg blocking off part of Broadway for pedestrian malls a while back, I felt that it was wrong. It could cause gridlock with cars idling, spewing out exhaust, so it’d be just as bad,” says Bruce McCall about the inspiration for this week’s cover, “A Greater, Greener New York.” He continues: “The whole forcing people to become more ecologically ‘aware’ health-wise seems to me to be Big Brother imposing on people, really the personal philosophy of the mayor and his ‘do-gooder’ group. I’m a liberal, but I find it offensive that we can’t be allowed to make our own decision about anything, and that there’s a better, ‘higher’ form of knowledge and expertise that we have to obey.”

“I’m a liberal, but…” is the “I like bike lanes, but…” of all irrational objection to common-sense solutions to every problem that plagues humanity.

McCall also calls worrying about one’s carbon footprint and doing what one can to save the environment a “liberal form of smugness,” which I’m sure his great-grandchildren will appreciate as they flip though old archives of his cover illustrations in the main branch of the public library in the floating city of New Chicago.

  1. jackdestefano permalink
    August 28, 2012 10:50 pm

    He’s assuming that the choice was an even-handed one. Five years ago, there were very few adequate bike lanes – every DOT official since the Moses era decided that cars were the way to get around New York City. It has only been until now that we’re beginning to see some parity with different modes of transportation. We’ve always had the “choice” of cycling, or walking, for that matter. But now we can make those choices and not worry so much about our safety as we would have a few years ago.

    Also, no one is forcing McCall from his car, he just has to pay a tiny portion of the negative externalities he forces upon the rest of us.

  2. August 29, 2012 8:55 am

    Sounds like it is mostly a reaction to the soda tax. I don’t know what New York “liberals” are actually for so I leave that out of the equation, but a lot of people seem to have lately fallen for the industry argument that a tax on unhealthy consumption is a governmental subversion of free will.

    Specifically, they seem to be unaware that the cigarette industry made the same argument when those taxes were first introduced, and that many people fell for it then too. Where are they now? Those still living are probably ranting about the soda tax. But no one now will come out and say that cigarette taxes were the wrong thing to do, given how successful they have been in freeing countless people from the yoke of a deceitful and manipulative industry pushing a product that kills its consumer.

    In a general sense, the “consumer choice” reactionaries are blind or indifferent to the almost unlimited power of consumer marketing in modern society, and the fundamentally amoral ways that corporations, by their nature, wield it. For the public to organize itself through government to counteract a force that is slowly killing it is not some new kind of mind control; it’s a collective survival instinct.

    I guess McCall didn’t want to draw a bunch of obese people slurping sugar water so he jumped on 2009’s plaza=rural bandwagon, a weird view that would only hold sway in the brief historical moment where middle-class urban motoring was even possible. That moment is over. His thoughts about the “smugness” of the personal choice to do less harm are also telling: he’s already demonized collective action through government, why not also impugn those who do what little they can individually?

    For Bruce McCall and his ilk, doing the right thing is always wrong; for society as a whole such thinking is nihilistic and suicidal. Its adherents must themselves be scorned by those who would like to see their kind survive for a few hundred years more. If I read the New Yorker, I’d be furious that my subscription dollars and advertisement-perceiving eyeballs support a platform for these morally rudderless and intellectually useless “liberals”.

  3. August 29, 2012 9:52 am

    Nice jab, I guess, except for the fact that the image of TSQ he uses to rib the nanny state is appealing.

    • Eric McClure permalink
      August 29, 2012 11:56 am

      Yeah, Times Square looks awesome. Imagine the economic development potential of canoe trips down 7th Avenue!

      • August 29, 2012 12:38 pm

        Agreed with you all. The common feature of all anti-progressive “satire” is that it makes the thing it demonizes look attractive. If we all had health care, we might turn into France. Oh no, NOT FRANCE! Those Parisians look miserable! If we all got around by bike, we might turn into Copenhagen. You mean that place where people are immensely satisfied by their quality of life? HEAVEN FORBID!

        There’s a reason there’s no conservative counterpart to The Daily Show.

  4. Jesse permalink
    August 29, 2012 10:51 am

    The problem here is assuming that an individual choice has no consequences on society as a whole. There are very choices like that. Driving is certainly not one of those. One person may have the right to drive into the city but do I have complementary right not to have to breathe their exhaust, get hit by them, or just occupy some of the enormous space they take up? Do I even get any compensation for those impositions?

    I don’t take these measures as restricting the rights of some citizens. It’s more like mitigating the externalities of their behaviors and helping to protect the rights of the people who actually suffer those externalities. This is not an inappropriate use of government.

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