As New York City's crusading liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio takes up his pitch fork, don't worry too much about the wealthy bankers he plans to tax -- they can fend for themselves. The potential victims of de Blasio's “march toward a fairer, more just, more progressive place” are the small businesses and voluntary associations that make up civil society.
Charter schools, crisis pregnancy centers, small businesses and private charities are all in de Blasio’s crosshairs. These are government’s rivals in the business of getting people what they want and need — and a growing government doesn’t tolerate rivals.
Charter schools have long irked the teachers' unions and many others on the Left. They are publicly funded schools, but they are run by private bodies. This decentralizes power, weakens the unions and applies competitive pressure to public schools.
But charter schools' worst offense may be offering a different educational experience. The Left puts a huge emphasis on solidarity, which is a virtue. But sometimes “solidarity” can mutate into uniformity. If some New York City kids are at a stellar charter school while others are at mediocre public schools, then we have, to use de Blasio’s favorite phrase, “two cities.” This is intolerable to many activists and journalists on the Left, some of whom pen out op-eds declaring it a sin to send your kids to private school.
De Blasio is taking aim at the charters. His first step: charging them rent for using city buildings. Again, these are basically public schools, just ones given more leeway in forming curriculum and hiring staff. Charging them rent is really just fining them — for the offense of being partially independent from government.
Crisis pregnancy centers are clinics for pregnant women, run by pro-life charities. They provide counseling, some basic health services and things like free baby clothes and toys. These centers also refer pregnant women to adoption services and advanced health care.
But these centers don't perform abortions or refer women to abortionists, and they counsel against abortion. De Blasio attacks them as “sham crisis pregnancy centers” and promises to sic regulators on them. If you want to help pregnant women in de Blasio's New York City, you have to do it according to de Blasio's values -- which means more abortions.
De Blasio talks tough toward banks and big business, but he's planning to crack the whip on Mom and Pop. Currently, small businesses are exempt from the city’s requirement that employers provide paid sick leave. De Blasio promises to end that exemption and saddle small businesses with that burden.
Private charity will also be brought to heel in de Blasio’s New York. Nonprofit conservancies, funded by private donations, bankroll most of the operation of New York’s Central Park. De Blasio wants to grab a huge portion of this money and redistribute it around the city. In effect, he wants to tax donors on their donations and use their money for his own purposes.
New York City government trying to shackle private charity is nothing new -- former Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously cracked down on good Samaritans feeding the homeless. But de Blasio poses a greater threat than even Bloomberg.
De Blasio’s inauguration set a tone of intolerance for dissent. One speaker painted de Blasio’s win as victory in the Civil War and promised “a new Reconstruction era.” If you deal with your vanquished foes in city politics as if they were slaveholding traitors who started a war, that's worrisome.*
A century and a half ago, Reconstruction involved disenfranchising the losers and subjecting them to military rule. What would de Blasio’s Reconstruction entail?
The mayor has little respect for those he disagrees with. “I know that our progressive vision isn’t universally shared,” de Blasio said at his inauguration, typically a moment for unity. “Some on the far Right continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics.” Gotta love those open-minded liberals!
De Blasio plans to use government’s power to crack down on civil society. He regards his ideological opponents with disdain.
This attitude makes even his modest liberal plans worrisome. Universal preschool is a standard liberal dream. But if some four-year-olds are under the care of benevolent city government, and others get individual attention from a stay-at-home moms, isn't that also a "Tale of Two Cities”? Universal K-12 education is compulsory. How long can universal Pre-K remain optional?
If de Blasio really intends to “put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city,” it will involve more than redistributing wealth. It will require coercion and rule by fiat, which are antithetical to America's democratic values.
We can admire de Blasio’s ideals as he promises a “march toward a fairer, more just, more progressive place.” But from every indication so far, it will it be a forced march.
UPDATE: I added this sentence Sunday night after liberal blogger Jamelle Bouie (among others) suggested the surrounding sentences could be easily misread as a lamentation about the South's treatment after the Civil War.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.