It’s election day also in New York City and it is unanimously expected that Michael Bloomberg will receive something like a coronation, which is probably just as well. Bloomberg is a billionaire and there is grumbling about his “buying” his reelection, but the complaint is more or less pro forma in view of the quality of his opposition. “Freddy” Ferrer is reduced to pathetic sloganeering along the lines of a class struggle between the rich and the poor. He sounds like a John Lindsay without the charisma, and New Yorkers are in no mood to return to the bad old days when most everybody was resigned to the city being “ungovernable.”
Bloomberg is a social liberal and many have not forgiven his early experiment with nanny statism when he banned smoking by redefining every place in the city except your own home as a “public space.” But, by most indices, the city is more prosperous and liveable than it has been in a long time. When the community of which I’m part moved into a house on East 19th Street in 1979, we were routinely robbed three to four times a year. That was a long time ago.
The turnaround toward governability began with Ed Koch and continued with Rudy Giuliani, and Bloomberg has built on that. Ed Koch, a Democrat, has endorsed Bloomberg, as of course has Giuliani, a Republican. This is the fourth election in a row for a Republican mayor. Although, to be sure, Bloomberg is not much of a Republican, having joined the party to get a place on the ballot.
Giuliani, too, is far removed from what is understood to be the party base. The talk about his being the presidential candidate in 2008 seems far-fetched. The picture of him made over as a blond drag queen for a gay gala will likely not play well outside New York and San Francisco. That and much else works against his largely warranted image as the hero of 9/11. He is New York City through and through, and New York City, as we are regularly reminded, is not America.
The election is a further sign of the unraveling of the Democratic machine in the city. This does not mean, however, that the city will be joining the “red states” any time soon. It possibly could signal the beginnings of a revival of what used to be called “Rockefeller Republicanism.” But for the moment the victory of Michael Bloomberg is limited to the victory of Michael Bloomberg, and the apparent collapse of the Democratic machine is but another indication of union-based class warfare having run out of gas.
The Congress overwhelmingly favors banning “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons under the custody or control of the United States government.” President Bush says he would veto such a bill, which would be his very first veto. I don’t understand why the administration, and Vice President Cheney in particular, are so opposed. They say the army and the CIA need some leeway in dealing with terrorists. Many nations, probably most, countenance torture under certain extreme circumstances, although they don’t publicly admit to it.
The usual instance invoked is the “ticking bomb” scenario in which a prisoner presumably knows where a bomb will explode that will likely kill thousands of people in a crowded city. The question of torture has been discussed in detail in the pages of FIRST THINGS. Among ethicists and moral theologians there has been little serious effort to make the necessary distinctions between interrogation, intimidation, coercion, and torture. It appears that the treatment of prisoners is a dark and dirty business from which we wish to avert our eyes¯until it appears on the front pages and we then dutifully declare ourselves to be shocked¯shocked.
Like many things obscene and terrible, the abuse of prisoners will happen. It should be illegal and publicly condemned. Those who engage in it should be punished, well knowing that, operating behind the scenes, there will inevitably be executive discretion and clemency reserved for extreme cases such as the ticking bomb scenario. As a nation, we should be committed to outlawing the use of torture¯as we apparently are by virtue of a number of international agreements. There will always be outlaws, but the law also has a pedagogical function in discouraging them. The administration’s insistence upon public candor in acknowledging exceptions to the prohibition of torture is a puzzlement.
The intifida in France no doubt supplies some Americans with satisfaction in seeing the haughty French government taken down several notches. The temptation to indulge in Schadenfreude should be firmly resisted. What is happening in France and other parts of Europe is a tragedy of historic proportions. As I wrote in “The New Europes” (FIRST THINGS, October), we are witnessing the death of a continent. George Weigel addressed the many factors involved in “Europe’s Problem¯and Ours” (FIRST THINGS, February, 2004), which he later developed in his bracing little book, The Cube and the Cathedral .
We have over the years received flak for paying close attention to Bat Y’eor’s writings on Islam and dhimmitude ¯the system by which Muslims, both of the past and present, subjugate Christians and Jews. In her most recent book, Eurabia , Bat Y’eor describes the longstanding European policies that feed the dreams of Muslim conquest.
What is happening in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and elsewhere was not inevitable. The sage warnings of Bernard Lewis have gone largely unheeded. Samuel Huntington’s depiction of “the clash of civilizations” is not the last word, but to dismiss it as alarmist is certain folly. John Paul the Great persistently called for the re-Christianization of Europe, and Pope Benedict is no less committed to that goal. Europe, in the fine phrase of David Hart, is dying of “metaphysical boredom.” In the absence of a reason for being beyond the satisfaction of creature comforts, Europeans will continue to acquiesce in their own destruction. Call it Muslim-assisted suicide.