Or the mayor who ran for president.
Bret Stephens: Gail, you’re a New Yorker and I’m now a former New Yorker, albeit one who is often in town. How are you feeling about the city these days? And do you have any preferences in the race to succeed Bill de Blasio?
Gail Collins: Bret, my city (and yours — if you work here you at least have rooting rights) tends to switch back and forth between regular party Democrats and feisty independents. De Blasio, a deep, dull Democrat, was preceded by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, who were very, very different versions of the political outsider.
Bret: Some might even call them Republicans. Go on …
Gail: And before that David Dinkins, who was the city’s first Black mayor. But also a clubhouse politician.
If it’s time for a new outsider, it does sort of seem that Andrew Yang ought to fit the bill. Yet he’s run a rather strange campaign — lots of interesting ideas but often the kind you hear from a guy who’s on a six-month internship at City Hall before being posted someplace else.
Bret: I’m generally sympathetic to Yang because — math! New York got a bailout this year from President Biden’s Covid relief bill, but the city is still going to need a mayor who can balance its books and create a business-friendly climate, especially if the financial industry deserts it and the M.T.A. continues to lose riders and revenue. I’m less thrilled about Yang’s $2,000 a year cash-relief plan for New York’s poorest, but post-pandemic I can at least see the case for it.
Also, who else has been supported by Anthony Scaramucci and Whoopi Goldberg?
Gail: OK, that’s definitely a dynamic duo. Meanwhile, I hear Rudy Giuliani’s son, Andrew, is thinking about running for governor. You’ll be voting in that race — how would you rate him versus Andrew Cuomo?
Bret: Hemlock or cyanide? Devoured by a saltwater crocodile versus bitten by a venomous sea snake? A year of solitary confinement in a supermax prison or an all-expenses paid trip to Cancún in the company of Ted Cruz? I’m trying to think of equivalently horrible alternatives.
Gail: Wow, that was quite a mountain of metaphors.
Bret: OK, I confess I don’t know a thing about Rudy’s son. And I try to subscribe to the words from Ezekiel: “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” So I’ll, um, keep an open mind.
Gail: Well, Andrew G. was introduced to the New York public on the day his father was sworn in as mayor. The little kid took over the ceremony, blowing kisses to the cameras while Rudy was trying to deliver his serious speech.
Bret: Now I remember …
Gail: Dad held up pretty well. I remember, at the time, saying that Rudy obviously had the right temperament for politics, since he could maintain such a show of good humor while losing the crowd’s attention to a cavorting child. So much for my talents at political analysis.
Bret: Your talents were just fine. Rudy proved to be a mostly terrific mayor who restored the city to glory and led us through 9/11. However, sometime later, on a fishing trip in the Catskills, he was captured by a race of dyspeptic, prank-playing space aliens who removed his brain and replaced it with Roy Cohn’s, which they had been keeping in a jar of formaldehyde.
That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.
Gail: Not sure the real Rudy of 9/11 lived up to the later legend. But I do like that idea about Roy Cohn’s brain.
Anyhow, I think Andrew’s high jinks back at the 1994 inauguration rank, so far, as the political peak of his life. More recently, during the Trump era, he did a great deal of golfing with the president. It was his job, more or less.
Bret: Not what I would consider a qualification for high office. I definitely would like to see a sane Republican as governor. One-party rule is never a good thing, and a liberal state like New York could use a socially moderate, business-friendly chief executive like Maryland’s Larry Hogan or Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker.
Gail: And New York has had some. But except for Nelson Rockefeller our gubernatorial Republicans weren’t very exciting. Have we ever discussed the George Pataki years? No? At least with Andrew G. we’d have a Republican who knows how to putt …
Bret: I’ll take the Pataki years over the Spitzer-Paterson-Cuomo years!
Gail: Because …
Bret: Because Pataki-Not-Wacky? Because he never did what Cuomo is doing now, which is jacking up state taxes on the rich to some of the highest rates in the country. That’s just going to accelerate the exodus of people to income-tax free states like Florida. The large homeless population and rise in shootings isn’t exactly helping to keep people in New York, either.
Speaking of shootings, we have another nightmare in Indianapolis.
Gail: It breaks my heart because it feels so hopeless. We have a president who’s a champion of sane gun regulation, but lately there’s been a mass killing every week. Meanwhile, the House has passed a very, very, very modest reform to the background check system, which is in danger of dying in the Senate.
And remember the El Paso massacre? Apparently the Texas House doesn’t, since it just voted to eliminate the requirement that people get permits to carry handguns.
Why can’t we ever manage to get this dragon under control?
Bret: You know, after 9/11 the country collectively accepted that we needed far tougher security at airports and on airplanes. And most of us, conservatives included, were OK with all of it — standing in lines; taking off our shoes; removing electronic devices from our bags; throwing away large bottles; all the rest of it — because we understood there was a national emergency and a common-sense need to improve security.
Gail: While retaining the right to sigh deeply when those lines stretched on forever …
Bret: And aside from the ordinary griping, few Americans really considered it an infringement on our basic constitutional rights because we understood that personal safety is also a civil right and that a duty of government is to “insure domestic tranquillity.”
But we’ve had more than 45 mass shootings in the United States just since the Atlanta killings last month. Many of which we haven’t even heard of because there were more injuries than deaths.
Gail: True, a mass wounding doesn’t get as much attention as a road closing.
Bret: And yet we won’t even undertake the kind of basic precautions that we accept as normal and logical when it comes to boarding airplanes. The killer in Indianapolis had his shotgun taken away from him last year because of mental-health concerns, but he was still able to buy two rifles after that.
I wish I could convince my fellow conservatives of this. But noooooo. It’s like trying to talk someone out of an article of religious faith that seems preposterous to those outside the faith but fundamental to those within it. I’d offer an example of what I have in mind but I’d hate to insult anyone who believes in Immaculate Conception.
Gail: Speaking as the product of 14 years of Catholic education, I’m gonna bet you don’t know that Immaculate Conception refers to the belief that Mary was born free of original sin.
Bret: I stand chastened and corrected. To make amends, I hasten to note that Yiddish has at least 20 different words to describe useless Jewish men, of which I’m clearly a yutz, a putz, a schmendrick, a schlemiel, a schlimazel, or something else beginning with “sch.”
Gail: Hey, never heard of a schmendrick before. I believe this conversation is going to provide one great step forward in cultural understanding.
Bret: Or at least some mutual kvetching.
Gail: Which I hope we can continue soon over drinks or dinner. Do you feel as if we’re actually being sprung from pandemic purgatory?
Bret: It may be my congenital contrarianism, Gail, but after spending the better part of the pandemic feeling optimistic about the future, I’ve now sunk into deep fatalism. Cases are edging up again, driven by the new virus variants, and the steep decline in Covid deaths since January also seems to have bottomed out at an average rate of around 700 a day, which is just horrific.
Gail: Yeah, never going to accept the idea that 700 daily fatalities is good news.
Bret: The idea that we may all need boosters in six months or a year doesn’t faze me, and neither do the (very rare) instances of people reacting badly to the vaccines. But it also likely means continued social distancing, continued working from home, continued masking, continued nonsocializing, continued all-purpose nervousness.
Gail: Have you noticed that the most faithful mask wearers seem to be blue staters? I guess accessorizing only counts in some places when it involves carrying weapons.
Bret: I observe that Covid deaths in Texas have fallen by about 70 percent since the state dropped its mask mandate in early March. But I don’t draw any conclusions, since I really don’t know what to think anymore. Our colleague David Brooks wrote the other week that living through the last year has felt like one long Groundhog Day. Except that, unlike Bill Murray’s character, I’ve mostly been getting worse at everything.
Gail: Maybe we’ve gotten better at personal interaction that doesn’t actually involve being face to face. It’s been even more fun conversing with you than prepandemic.
Bret: Still miss the old kind of interaction. I’m getting my second shot in two weeks. Let’s get together for cocktails once I’m fully vaccinated — and not on Zoom.
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