A couple months ago, as it dawned on New Yorkers that the mayoral campaign was not just background noise but actually worth paying attention to, my friends and I became more aware of the contours of the Democratic race. I soon realized something else: Everyone I knew was for Bill de Blasio, the current public advocate, whom a new Quinnipiac poll just placed in the lead for the September 10 primary, the first major poll to do so. The reason was that de Blasio was the obvious progressive on the issues—along with John Liu, who's been hampered by campaign-fraud convictions of two former associates—and, at least as importantly, he was the obvious progressive in terms of, well, sensibility. As many learned in May, he lives in Park Slope with his multiracial family, and talks a lot about inequality.
It was reminiscent of nothing so much as what happened in late 2007, when another “gangly,” cerebral-seeming liberal in a Democratic primary seemed to capture the imaginations of young progressives. In January 2008, Gail Collins memorably asked, “How could you be 21 and not be for Obama?” It sorta feels like that. Like Obama, de Blasio is “wine-track.” (Of course, Obama was able to put together a winning Democratic coalition by combining that vote with a substantial majority of the black vote, a luxury that polls suggest de Blasio will not enjoy.)
In the ensuing months, and especially weeks and even days, progressive New Yorkers seem increasingly—on their Twitter feeds, in what they read, and at their bars—to be living in a world where de Blasio is polling at 100 percent. The Nation endorsed him. So did George Soros and Jeffrey Sachs. A New Republic writer (okay, it was me) noted the affinity between him and the “hipster vote.” Today alone brought The New Yorker’s George Packer, who literally just wrote the book on inequality, bringing the praise, and New York’s Ben Wallace-Wells observing meta-style that the New York Times, in clear reflection of the liberal professional class it serves, has fallen for de Blasio. “I only know one person who voted for Nixon,” The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael famously remarked of the 1972 election. “Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” It also sorta feels like that.
Which, of course, is the potential pitfall of liberal elitism: It’s elitist. That is, it can both blinker you to what is really going on—Nixon, after all, won in a landslide—and can leave you cold to the reasons why other well-intentioned people would vote for someone besides the person whom you support (in the case of the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, if not the 1972 presidential election). The young de Blasio bandwagoners of New York City, who will no doubt only see their numbers grow in the coming days, should by all means get out the vote, vote themselves, and believe in the change they can believe in. But they should not let their advocacy curdle into feelings of superiority. De Blasio’s signature “tale of two cities” speech, after all, is a call to unite the city.