On September 10, 2001 — the day before we were attacked — New York City was a long-reviled place in the hearts of Republicans, right along with Chicago, San Francisco and the District of Columbia.
While today we see Republican Southerners and Midwesterners oddly invested, and stomping mad, about things like lower Manhattan zoning issues (“they’re going to build a mosque on scared ground!” — even though it’s not a mosque at all, and it’s blocks away), on September 10, 2001 they largely dismissed the metropolis as a worthless sewer representing all that was wrong with America.
Perhaps Republican Vice President Dan Quayle — the Sarah Palin of his time — put it best in 1992, when Democrats chose New York City as the site of their convention:
“In so many ways, the liberal Democrats chose the perfect site for their convention,” Vice President Dan Quayle said last month, homing in on the theme. “Almost as if they feel a strange compulsion to return to the scene of the crime.”
Quayle’s derision for New York City wasn’t an aberration. Fast forward to Braves pitcher John Rocker in 1999, only two years before September 11.
When Rocker gave voice to this “I Hate ‘Queer with AIDS’ New York” assessment, nearly 30,000 fans in Atlanta leapt to their feet in a rapturous standing ovation. He would later receive standing ovations in places like Toledo, Ohio where like minded fans would bring homemade signs reading “Rocker for President”.
What exactly did Rocker say that struck a chord with so many? In a 1999 interview with Sports Illustrated, where the admitted steroid-user mocked Asian women and called a black teammate a monkey, Rocker was asked whether he’d consider playing for the Yankees or Mets:
“I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English. Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?”
When George W. Bush visited New York before 9/11 he was asked if he enjoyed being in the city, and he simply gave a knowing smirk. Complimenting the multicultural mecca wouldn’t have played well with the base that adored his Texas brush clearing swagger.
His father wasn’t any better in 1992:
The Republicans are already well into their campaign to tar New York as proof of what went wrong with Democratic liberalism. Just last Friday, the Bush campaign sent a video news release to thousands of local television stations around the country explaining that delegates would not be seeing “the real New York,” because the city has deployed thousands of police officers on overtime to create a sanitized shimmer.
But as we always hear, 9-11 changed everything. It was like the prior decades of disdain never happened, and we’ve all pretty much played along. Suddenly Republicans loved New York City so much, they even decided to have their convention there in 2004.
Of course everything didn’t really change, and some of those good old fashioned disses still bleed through, now that 9/11 has become less effective as a political cudgel for Republicans to wield — so they’re back to hating New York again.
While speaking in Las Vegas earlier this year, Newt Gingrich blasted “New York elites who live in highrises and ride the subway,” and Rick Santorum said only people outside of New York and Los Angeles have values:
“I kept saying, you just stick with us, you go out and vote for your values and trust what you know, because you don’t live in New York City. You don’t live in Los Angeles. You live like most Americans in between those two cities, and you know the values you believe in.”
Obviously Republicans haven’t evolved since jumping to their feet in denunciation of immigrants, foreign languages, “queers”, or mass transit. And New York certainly hasn’t become less of a decidedly blue international city.
I can’t look inside one’s heart, but I can observe actions and listen to words. When Republicans cheer and wave plastic flags for a tough-talking president standing on a smouldering debris pile, but yawn or grumble when those responsible are finally killed by a different president, I think it’s fair to outright dismiss their proclaimed love for New York and its people, among other things.
Ideologues used the wound of a national tragedy as an excuse to rush in like an opportunistic infection and push their agenda. I’d bet money many teabaggers — whether caterwauling about where the city’s “mosques” are built, or in a blind rage over plans to include (shudder) ethnic faces on a 9/11 statue — couldn’t even identify Manhattan on a map.
9/11 was a moment where we all came together, but when hacks like Sarah Palin talk about “the real America,” Fox News personalities actually seem to encourage terrorists to attack San Francisco, and the Republican nominee for president regularly disparages our third largest city, we see that for Republicans, September 10th is far more relevant, far more self-defining, than September 11th will ever be.
And that, I will never forget.