Slandering A Great American City for Fun and Profit

As late as last year, one of my cherished ambitions was to be published in First Things and I would have seen it as a mark of honor and distinction. This year, however, seeing my byline there would mean that I had prostituted myself and my values. Unfortunately, over the last year, under the editorship of RR Reno, First Things has declined from a journal of ideas and high ideals to Brietbart for people who can read without moving their lips.

Cementing the tragic fall is today’s piece by Dominic Green, “City of the Chosen”, an unprovoked, unneccesarry, arrogant, petulant, petty, disengenuous, disgraceful, pig-ignorant, shameless bit of hack work attacking the City and People of Cambridge. Now, I hardly approve of the dominant secular progressive politics supported by most of my fellow Cantabrigians, but that’s hardly important. What’s important is that I am one of the people in the People’s Republic. To paraphrase David Ortiz, it’s my effing city, too. I can no more allow this insult to go unchallenged than if a hostile army suddenly pitched up on our shores. To make things personal, he even lobs a tirade at my neighborhood of Huron Village.

According to Green, we people of Cambridge are guilty of being elites who hypocritically voted for and support Hillary Clinton even though under Trump our stocks and property values are doing very well. The horror that people here were willing to be taxed more and live under a more burdensome regulatory state so that all Americans could have a better life. That certainly is some hypocrisy.

“We let money stand for virtue, and we pay off our consciences when they trouble us,” Green writes. He can speak for himself. No one I have ever met confuses money for virtue (and I should know, since I used to hang out with anarcho-capitalists), especially not in Cambridge. Apparently, for Green, the fact that citizens of Cambridge are willing to put up with the extra taxation in an attempt to help the poor and indigent that little more than the state or federal governments do makes us worthy of his contempt. The welfare state is many things, but at the level of our city, what we do is much closer to subsidiarity in action.

It is a fair criticism that Cambridge’s present prosperity has not been widely shared among people of color, blue collar workers or low income people. It is not a fair criticism to say that this inequality is intended or even the result of policies supported by the people of Cambridge. It was not Cantabrigians or their representatives who voted to financialize the economy and deregulate banking, to eviscerate unions, to destroy anti-trust provisions. Cambridge was one of just three cities in Massachusetts that voted to keep rent control in a 1994 referendum. It was conservatives who did those things, for better or worse, and if the wifebeater-wearing, pickup-driving, WalMart-shopping, “real Americans” didn’t benefit, conservatives never showed the slightest concern for them before.

Nor is it the fault of “the market” that the middle and lower classes have been priced out of Cambridge. This is the only issue Green brings up where the choice of us Cambridge residents has actually played a direct role in fostering an exclusive and unequal Cambridge, but it’s the only one he absolves us of.

Teachers, policemen, firefighters, and nurses can no longer afford to live in the city in which they work. We cycle and walk to our offices. They sit in traffic on the way home to Medford and Waltham. But it wasn’t us who did this. No, it was the market.

Of course it was the market. Never mind that homeowner associations support zoning restrictions that prevent developers from building enough new homes to house the city’s burgeoning population. Never mind that these are quite strictly enforced. Pay no attention to the wealthy suburbs like Newton, Brookline and Lexington that allow no building at all.

Typical NIMBYism (typical socialism, typical integralism): prevent the market from working and then blame the market when things go wrong.

Green takes a turn for the surreal by proclaiming Watertown the real America (which apparently begins in a Stop and Shop parking lot, even though the only Stop and Shop in Watertown is near its border with Newton). Why? Because Watertown has white ethnics (so does Cambridge), because they buy American-made cars (even though the Teslas he mocked West Cantabrigians for driving are all made in the United States) and because the Watertown Mall has a lot of parking spaces (???).

To make matters more bizarre, Green began his article by noting that 89 percent of Cambridge voters supported Clinton in 2016 (along with the curious untruth that 4.5 percent vote “voted green or socialist”. Now, two percent voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, but 2.5 percent voted for Gary Johnson, who was no socialist), but in Watertown 73 percent voted for Clinton. Sixteen percent might be a big difference, but either way that’s still a landslide.

And if Cambridge stands out for its wealth and Clintonism, what is Green to make of the even wealthier suburbs of Brookline and Newton, considering even they, despite their liberal reputation and wealth had lower percentages for Clinton. Even Northampton, Amherst and Provincetown, places that in some respects make Cambridge seem conservative (anecdotally, I’d say there’s a lot more church-going in Cambridge, for example), didn’t give Clinton as high a percentage.

But getting back on topic, the idea that Cambridge is home to some sort of global economic elite conspiring to steal the sweat off the American workingman’s back in order to benefit themselves and some unscrupulous Mexicans is an absurd fantasy. I know a lot of people here and it seems to me doubtful that the global economic elite lives with roommates into their thirties, contemplates moving to Leominster and spending three hours commuting into Boston in the morning just to be able to raise a family, or endures the unreliability, long travel times and discomfort of our buses and subways in order to avoid the expense of owning and parking a car. I expect the elite to be more glamorous, somehow.

I helpfully suggest that rather than nursing his unfounded and lamentable contempt for his neighbors (though his geographic and factual errors make me wonder if he actually lives here), he try being neighborly. Atomization is a terrible thing, you know.

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