Meet the anti-anti-American New Yorker

By Phoebe Maltz

Is it possible to be a native New Yorker, one who loves the city, who feels culturally aligned with “blue America,” who reads the Times, who is for gay marriage, who wears a lot of black, who orders espresso drinks with skim milk, who is nevertheless deeply disturbed by the sentiment, common among New Yorkers, that New York is both not a part of America and is better than the rest of the country?

It has to be possible, because that’s where I’m at right now.

A November 4 article by Joseph Berger in the New York Times, “A Blue City (Disconsolate, Even) Bewildered by a Red America,” profiles some of the many New Yorkers whose scorn for their own country permits them to believe they are not a part of it.

“Do you know how I described New York to my European friends?” film producer Berverly Camhe said. “New York is an island off the coast of Europe.”

How cute. Sure, New Yorkers may be, by and large, thin and stylish. Some great croissants can be found at a bakery on the Upper West Side. But New York’s very diversity, the fact that while Paris has French people and foreigners, and Berlin has Germans and foreigners, New York has New Yorkers, means that New York is an entity that could only exist in America. This is lost on Camhe.

“Ms. Camhe, the film producer, frequents Elaine’s restaurant with friends and spends many mornings on a bench in Central Park talking politics with homeless people with whom she’s become acquainted.” This quote might as well have read, “Ms. Camhe is a patronizing, well-off bitch who thinks she’s smarter than everyone else in the country just because she’s a New Yorker.”

“We need to bring our way of life, which is honoring diversity and having compassion for people with different lifestyles, on a trip around the country,” she later says. So she’s a uniter, not a divider; is she offering to actually take a trip to the “real” America? Or does she just hope osmosis from shows like “Will and Grace” will be enough to spread the word?

“‘I’m saddened by what I feel is the obtuseness and shortsightedness of a good part of the country—the heartland,’ dog walker Dr. Joseph said. ‘This kind of redneck, shoot-from-the-hip mentality and a very concrete interpretation of religion is prevalent in Bush country—in the heartland.'”

Yup, gotta watch out for those rednecks. When did they get the vote, anyway? Joseph’s friend Roberta Kimmel Cohn adds, in a bout of utter ridiculousness, “We have street smarts. Whereas people in the Midwest are more influenced by what their friends say.”

Presumably Cohn is an independent thinker, uninfluenced by the fact that nearly everyone else in New York happens to also lean left.

I want to ask these fellow New Yorkers if they believe in the concept of democracy, the idea that, in America, people vote, and the person with the most electoral votes (and, this time around, the most votes, period) wins the presidency. Would it be better if a committee made up of an indie movie actor, a performance artist, an aging radical, and the charming homeless person whom you give money to on your way to Nobu picked the president without consulting the rest of the country? Or if only those who went to elite universities, preferably in the Northeast, had a vote? Some people certainly believe this, but I’d imagine most of the New Yorkers profiled in this article wouldn’t admit to such anti-democratic tendencies.

The fear of these New Yorkers, that those in the rest of the country do not see them as Americans, has some truth behind it. Much of what makes New York great—from the acceptance of eccentricity to the availability of many delicious, so-called yuppie food items—is looked down upon by the rest of the country as more New York snobbery. And the rest of the country, in turn, sees New York as not quite American, and thus not a part of the greatness that is America. Anyone who seems too stylish, educated, Jewish, wealthy, eccentric, gay, too “New York,” gets lumped into the “not American” category, although the whole point of America is that the “all-American” types are no more American than the neurotic, Prada-wearing Harvard grads.

Is it possible to fear both the anti-Americanism of New Yorkers and the anti-cosmopolitanism of the heartland? There are dippy people in both New York and the rest of the country, living stereotypes of the full-of-it, self-righteous New York liberal and the narrow-minded, religious fanatic Midwestern conservative. But as an American who believes in our democracy, I respect President Bush because I respect the fact that the American people elected him. And as a New Yorker, I could really go for a Tasti-d-Lite, vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.