A primer on how liberals lose: Until yesterday, we didn’t realize that Pamela Druckerman’s piece on Miami appeared in last weekend’s Sunday Review, right there in the hard-copy Times.
We had read the piece via email. In part because the piece was so odd, we assumed it appeared on-line.
To us, it’s amazing that the New York Times would publish such a piece in the august Sunday Review. On the other hand, it almost defines a key way we liberals choose to lose.
Poor Druckerman! Today, she lives in Paris, France, a fact we’ve learned in previous columns. But she is sometimes forced to visit her home town here in the States.
Miami is the godforsaken little burg in question. Condescending headline included, this is the way she began:
DRUCKERMAN (8/10/14): Miami Grows Up. A Little.Druckerman returns to Miami, hoping to see if she is the problem. Despite her acknowledged “life of the mind,” we’re inclined to suspect that she is!
If you had asked me what I wanted when I was 12 years old, I probably would have said, “to marry a plastic surgeon.”
You can hardly blame me: I was growing up in Miami. My life plan elegantly combined the city’s worship of bodies and money, and its indifference to how you came by either. When I left for college, I put Miami behind me, and tried to have a life of the mind. I got a graduate degree. I traveled. I even married a fellow writer, whose only real estate was a dingy one-bedroom apartment in Paris, where we lived.
But with kids came long summer pilgrimages to Miami to see family. It took a lot of effort to keep spurning the city, especially since the weather was so good. Miami had grown up a bit, and so had I. Hadn’t it developed a soul beneath its vapid, extremely pleasant, slightly menacing exterior? If I understood Miami better, could I grow to like it? Maybe I was the problem?
Midway through her return of the native, Druckerman says Miami offers “proof that a city can be international but not cosmopolitan.” It’s based on the way Miamians (allegedly) talk. Accents exist nowhere else!
Druckerman then puzzles us with this brisk formulation:
DRUCKERMAN: Most locals also don’t seem bothered that Miami is one of America’s most unequal cities, with lots of very poor people living close to rich ones. Miami’s have-nots are easy to ignore, since—if they’re not cleaning your house or parking your car—you just drive past them.Based on a short visit, how could Druckerman possibly know what “most locals” think? By the way, isn’t she likely talking about most upper-income locals? If so, hasn’t she proven her own point: “Miami’s have-nots are easy to ignore?”
Whatever! As she continued, we chuckled at the ease with which Druckerman does supercilious. This is her considered closing assessment:
DRUCKERMAN: Still, Miami has gotten more interesting, just by existing a while longer. Its buzzing new arts scene is a start. “I think Miami is now trying to figure out a way to be a center of ideas and brains,” the urban-studies theorist Richard Florida told me.Poor Druckerman! “There was a lot of pleasure in Miami, but not enough surprising interactions and ideas.” There’s no one to talk to down there!
For the moment, though, Miami looks like a giant construction project. After a several-year lull that started in 2008, luxury condominiums are shooting up again, often right next to each other. The local economy still runs on selling bits of land to newcomers.
And while there are some thinkers scattered around town, Miami is overrun with lawyers, jewelry designers and personal trainers, all trying to sell services to one another. “Injured on a cruise ship?” reads a sign on South Dixie Highway, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. My recent stay coincided with Miami Spa Month, a bathing-suit fashion week, and a “camming” convention for stars of do-it-yourself pornography. While dropping off my rental car, I met a Central American woman who made extra cash picking up people at the airport and driving them to their appointments for cut-rate breast enlargements.
I wanted to fall for the place. I’m a third-generation Miamian. I’m fond of it. I’m an expatriate, so it’s the only American city I can still legitimately claim. Many of its faults—especially its inordinate interest in shopping—are my own too. And it’s obvious why people like it here. After two weeks, I’d swum so many laps that the flaps of fat on my arms, which I’d assumed were an inevitable consequence of middle age, were nearly gone.
But still, compared with the Miamians, I felt practically deformed. And I struggled to have conversations that weren’t about real estate or consumption. There was a lot of pleasure in Miami, but not enough surprising interactions and ideas. Miami may one day be the city for normal-looking people with semi-intellectual aspirations and a mild social conscience. But it’s not there yet.
No one is going to die from these oddly haughty musings. We’re surprised the Times published this piece, but no one will actually care.
On the other hand, we were struck by the way this piece recalled an early passage in Nixonland, Rick Perlstein’s widely discussed 2008 book.
We liberals! All too often, we choose to lose through our open contempt for the lives of those regular people. As Perlstein notes—as everyone has always known—resentment against such condescension was a basic part of Nixon’s political success.
That’s why Perlstein’s early passage strikes us as so odd. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the passage, in which he describes Nixon’s childhood home town.
As we do, we’ll note one distinction:
In the end, no one will care about Druckerman’s piece. But Perlstein’s an important figure. When he thinks and talks this way, we liberals are itchin’ to lose.
Tomorrow: The Nixon doll