Childe Lindsay

Governing the City: Challenges and Options for New York

edited by Robert H. Connery, edited by Demetrios Caraley
Praeger, 250 pp., $2.95 (paper)

A Political Life: The Education of John V. Lindsay

by Nat Hentoff
Knopf, 354 pp., $6.95

New York, October 27.

Snobbery seems insufficiently understood as a factor in democratic politics, which, more often than not, is just the wriggling of the man who feels snubbed in unequal contest with the man who can snub. The subject is indeed so neglected that it arises only once in a recent study of the governance of New York: when Irving Kristol, co-editor first of Encounter and now of The Public Interest, complains about the hauteur of “the Upper East Side and Suburban Elite (the media men, WASP bankers and foundation officials, affluent Jewish financiers and professionals, advertising agencies, etc.).”

But we need only take note of Irving Kristol being afflicted by the imagined snubs of McGeorge Bundy, and think of Rhody McCoy, unafflicted by the real snubs of Irving Kristol, to recognize snobbery as the sovereign element in our politics. The snobbery of the city explains almost everything: it is part of the reason why Mr. Lindsay has failed as a Mayor and much of the reason why he succeeds as a candidate, why, having been repudiated, he will now be re-elected.

James Q. Wilson nicely describes Mr. Lindsay as the archetype of the “audience-oriented” Mayor, the actor in public confrontations. There has been one pattern common to these exhibitions: Mr. Lindsay loses when he represents a lower social order against a higher one and he wins when he comes forward for a higher against a lower. The debate over the Civilian Review Board was won by the police, a superior class once it is cast against the Negroes and the young. The teachers beat the Mayor on school decentralization and thus preserved an order where, if teachers sometimes need to defer to the parents of the rich, the parents of the poor must always defer to teachers. But the Mayor beat the sanitation workers, on style at least, because he made the issue one of whether the city would bow its head to garbage collectors, having, in this case, arrayed snobbery on his side.

So now we come upon him before the National Council of Jewish Women in Kew Gardens, in the borough of Queens. The chairlady’s introduction has the peculiarly spare ostentation of royal gazettes, being all titles and no descriptions: “It is with pride I present our Chief Executive, John Vliet Lindsay, the Mayor of the City.” We have wandered into a monarchical occasion; even the flatness of his words suggests those speeches from the throne which permit no flight of language that might distract our attention from the monarch’s complexion. He is awful and we fear him; he is also vulnerable and we feel compelled to protect him; he is at once Prince Rupert and Saint Sebastian. Someone in the audience asks him why he has neglected Queens. We share the chairlady’s undisguised embarrassment; and he is even more affronted for himself than we are for him.

He chills, and suddenly is the judge of us who were presumably gathered to judge …

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