Have you noticed that the passive voice — as in “Mistakes were made,” or “The YouTube video caused the attack,” — has become ubiquitous in American political discourse?
Leave aside instances in which its usage reflects an unwillingness or inability for individuals to take responsibility for failure. There is another set of circumstances in which it is used to pernicious effect.
Exhibit A comes to us courtesy of the New York Times, in an article written about the declining popularity of Warren Wilhelm, aka New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Now I will not hold the use of the passive voice in the Times’ headline “New Poll Shows Mayor de Blasio’s Support Has Eroded” against The Grey Lady, but I do take issue with her usage in explaining just why it is that de Blasio’s poll numbers have declined so precipitously.
The Times writes:
Mr. de Blasio has encountered a series of difficulties in recent months, including the tussle with Mr. Cuomo, also a Democrat, over a disappointing legislative session in Albany, and distressing headlines about a rising murder rate — even as city officials have noted that overall crime continues to fall.
The mayor was also recently the subject of negative ads from the car-hailing company Uber, which opposed a proposed cap on its growth that the mayor had promoted. (The city has, for now, backed away from the proposal.)
Administration officials were quick to connect the increase in disapproving voters — a four-point uptick since May — to the Uber campaign, noting that the mayor’s numbers also suffered for a time last year during a public dispute with advocates of charter schools.
You see, for the progressive Times, Mayor de Blasio is a hapless victim. He has “encountered difficulties” through no fault of his own.
Were it not for those damn “distressing headlines about a rising murder rate,” or “negative ads from the car-hailing company Uber” or “a public dispute with advocates of charter schools,” de Blasio would be held in the same esteem as Hizzoner Koch.
What the Times fails to note is that headlines about the murder rate — and “the bad old days” returning to New York more generally — are not being written in a vacuum. Mayor de Blasio has opposed his predecessors’ law enforcement policies (and attacked their enforcers), policies that coincided with plummeting crime rates and an infinitely more pleasant and livable city. Had Mayor de Blasio maintained the law enforcement status quo to the same effect of rising murder rates and savage attacks, cop killings and squeegee men, then perhaps the Times would be justified in making de Blasio a victim of sorts. In light of his own words and actions, we cannot.
As for Uber, the company’s highly effective anti-de Blasio ads came in direct response to a policy the mayor pushed that would have impaired Uber’s ability to grow. Again, these ads did not occur in a vacuum. And what made them particularly bruising was that they illustrated the hypocrisy inherent in a “progressive,” “inequality”-busting mayor siding with entrenched interests against an upstart competitor providing opportunity for thousands of New Yorkers and convenience for hundreds of thousands if not millions more.
On those “charter school disputes,” again disputes are not the proximate cause of de Blasio’s waning political support. In fact, the public loves a spat when a politician is perceived to be looking out for them. Rather, de Blasio’s opposition to school choice in favor of public schools and the politically powerful public teachers’ union — and apparent unwillingness to expend political capital in support of charter schools in the rare instance when he does champion one — reflects a controversial position. Rightly, many in progressive New York are able to set aside their ideology when it means a better education for their children. The “dispute” is not the issue for Mayor de Blasio. The issue is the issue for Mayor de Blasio.
Bill de Blasio has not “encountered difficulties.” He has created them through his own policies. He is not a victim of chance. He is merely paying a political price for the disastrous outcomes of his own progressive agenda.
The real victims are New Yorkers who must live with him. Next time they ought to choose their mayor more wisely.
Featured Image: YouTube screengrab/Uber.