Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His email is hmeyerson@prospect.org

Recent Articles

Why Liberalism Fled the City ... And How It Might Come Back

The strongholds of municipal liberalism are gone; the coalition of immigrants, unionists, poor people, and neighborhoods has been replaced by alliances between tough-on-crime Republican mayors and organized business. But the seeds of a revival are there.

I f you want to view the political decay of American liberalism, look at its spawning ground—the great cities. In the late 1990s, there simply are no remaining strongholds of municipal liberalism. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino has managed to retain the policies of his predecessor Ray Flynn, the one great left-populist mayor of the Reagan-Bush years, but he has not expanded them. The tenure of San Francisco's Willie Brown has been notable only for Brown's considerable panache. And that about exhausts the list of major city mayors with pretenses to liberalism. In Chicago, the latest Mayor Daley is a cleaned-up throwback to machine politics and a close ally of downtown. In Philadelphia, Mayor Ed Rendell, a nominal Democrat, has become a champion of fiscal retrenchment. The collapse of vibrant liberal urban politics has come from two directions—the top and the base. Once, federal funds provided the resources to hold together an often unwieldy coalition. And once, the grass roots provided...

Race Conquers All

N ew York, like Los Angeles, now has its new mayor; that's the bad news. Seldom has a city elected a leader about whom it knew less or who seemed to know less about his city. Their mutual ignorance--New York's of Michael Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg's of New York--seems almost total. In the course of his campaign, Bloomberg said nothing whatever to indicate how he'd govern, save that he'd try to follow in Rudy Giuliani's footsteps. And in Los Angeles, new Mayor James Hahn most certainly knows L.A., but L.A. knows less about him now than when he was a candidate. Five months into his term, ducking decisions and staying largely out of public view, Hahn has done virtually nothing to indicate how he's governing--or even that he's governing. Two blank slates now preside over America's two megacities. The news goes from bad to worse. New York and Los Angeles had major opportunities in this year's mayoral elections to inaugurate a new era of urban progressivism in America, and both cities...

Democracy Deadlocked

T his is a dispatch from purgatory--the purgatory to which we've all been condemned until this business about the identity of our next president is cleared up. I'd never realized until quite late on election night just how nervous purgatory can make a person. This particular purgatory is finite, endless though it may seem; you know that something either better or worse awaits on January 20. Unless you voted for Ralph Nader, however, exactly what awaits is a matter of some moment. (If you voted for Nader, the fate of mere people and nations--indeed, the effect of your vote on mere people and nations--is as naught next to the eternal verities that Nader proclaimed and that won 2.6 percent of voters' support on election day.) Still, from the vantage point of purgatory, it's becoming clear that whether it's George W. Bush or Al Gore who finally takes the oath, the sheer closeness of the election will constrain his administration. Should Bush win, the Republicans will...

Indentured Public Servant

A lan Cranston was always an organizer--one of the best of the post-World War II generation. Soon after the war ended, he founded and built the United World Federalists, an expression of postwar one-worldism that valiantly battled the Cold War zeitgeist. After he left the U.S. Senate eight years ago, he founded and built the Global Security Institute, a group dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons, in which cause he enlisted such notables as Jimmy Carter and, improbably enough, onetime cold warrior Paul Nitze. When Cranston died on the final day of last year, he'd been planning an initiative campaign for nuclear abolition. He never lacked for a worthy project, and no one knew better how to organize both people and money on behalf of a cause. It was his greatest strength. It was his downfall. And his career stands as a cautionary tale of noble ends and rotten means and all that's gone wrong with the business of politics in America. In a sense, Cranston's...

City of Tomorrow

E ven by the fast-forward standards of California politics, where term limits bump off the entire state legislature every eight years, Antonio Villaraigosa has had a meteoric career. In the early 1990s, he was an organizer for the teachers' union, a county supervisor's delegate on the L.A. transit board, and president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California--none of these particularly promising starting points for a career in politics. By 1998, astonishingly, he had become speaker of the California Assembly--and today, he is the great progressive hope in the upcoming election for mayor of Los Angeles. The question now is whether Villaraigosa can hasten the course of L.A. politics-- and that of urban progressivism generally--as he has his own career. For if he is to win the election to succeed the term-limited (and conservative) Richard Riordan as mayor, he must construct a brand-new electoral alliance among communities that have almost nothing in common. The...

Pages