Ted Cruz takes on 'New York values' – and runs into an angry fray

Ted Cruz isn’t the first political figure to invoke 'New York values' pejoratively. 

Chris Keane/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (r.) gestures towards rival candidate businessman Donald Trump (l.) as he speaks at the Fox Business Network Republican presidential candidates debate in North Charleston, S.C. on Thursday. Cruz's remarks, aimed as a put-down of campaign rival Donald Trump during Thursday evening's Republican debate, sparked a backlash from New York city and upstate dwellers, politicians and ordinary citizens alike.

“New York values.” The 2016 replacement for “San Francisco values” as conservative nomenclature for elitist, arrogant liberals.

A version of “San Francisco values” was popularized by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the onetime Democrat who served as President Ronald Reagan’s United Nations ambassador. At the 1984 Republican National Convention, Kirkpatrick condemned “San Francisco Democrats” for a “blame America first” mentality. It took on new life when the city’s ultra-progressive congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, ascended to Speaker of the House after the Democrats’ midterm romp and became the central target of GOP wrath.

But several things have happened that have led the Big Apple to replace the City by the Bay. One is that Republicans have heartily embraced nearby Silicon Valley’s tech-startup culture (and its tremendous wealth). Another is that The New York Times has come in for predictably heavy media-bashing; as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has noted, the Gray Lady “functions as a stand-in for everything – or at least many things – conservatives dislike: liberalism, the arrogance of big cities, intellectual elitism and out-of-touch-ness.”

And, of course, the GOP campaign has witnessed the ascendancy of Donald Trump, a proud New Yorker. “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay-marriage, focus around money and the media,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz asserted at Thursday’s GOP debate, stoking a fire that he had started earlier in the week.

Trump, naturally, went further into indignancy mode. “I've had more calls on that statement that Ted made – New York is a great place. It's got great people, it’s got loving people, wonderful people,” he responded. “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.”

Other Republicans have agreed with Trump in saying Cruz is off base. And New Yorkers and their media outlets have angrily joined the fray, with the Daily News invoking a famous 1970s headline in telling Cruz in no uncertain terms just how misguided he is.

Cruz isn’t the first political figure to invoke “New York values” pejoratively. Two years ago, when Houston Mayor Annise Parker married her longtime partner Kathy Hubbard, Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill wasn’t among those offering congratulations. “This is a mayor who is bringing California and New York values to Texas, and these are values Texans don't subscribe to,” Mr. Woodfill said. “Texans have defined their position on marriage in the form of a constitutional amendment.”

And when former Louisiana governor (and short-lived 2016 candidate Bobby Jindal) was stumping for Deb Fischer in her successful 2012 Senate race against former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska, Jindal took a shot at Kerrey’s tenure as president of Manhattan’s New School. “We don’t need to bring New York values to Nebraska,” he said. “We might need to send Nebraska values to New York.”

Democrats, unsurprisingly, have an entirely different conception of New York values. When House Republicans in 2012 proposed a federal budget that Democrats complained unfairly slashed spending for the poor, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D) of New York said, “This budget repeatedly chooses millionaires and billionaires over working families. Those are not American values, they are not New York values and we should reject them.”

And performance artist Penny Arcade staged a 2002 one-woman show called “New York Values” in celebration of the end of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s rule, contending that Giuliani had taken away far too much of the city’s gritty Bohemian charm.

Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

Interested in decoding what candidates are saying? Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” will be released on Jan. 19 and is now available for pre-order.

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