When do rules for the common good cross the line?
After living in New York City for a few weeks, I've reached a few conclusions about the great political divide in America.
As Barack Obama told us at the Democratic convention in 2004, we are not a red and blue nation, etc., etc., etc. True enough, but we are a high-density/low-density nation.
As a smallish-town girl come to the humongous city, I am all too aware of the appeal and horror of centralized government. Simply put, the more people cram themselves into small spaces, the more government will be involved in their lives.
This isn't the stuff of revelation, of course, but it's a useful metaphor for the two prevailing worldviews now in conflict.
If you live in a large urban area, chances are you are accustomed to lots of rules and regs. But to the newcomer, fresh from living largely independently by her own wits, the oppression of bureaucratic order is a fresh sort of hell.
Not only did I move from a small town in South Carolina via a relatively quiet neighborhood in Washington, I also left a solo writing operation to join CNN, an international organization with layers upon layers of human management. Not that I'm complaining. Just sayin'.
But between rules for potted plants on an apartment terrace and a building ban on lighting birthday candles, I've uttered more than once, "Now I know what it's like to live in communist China." Without, of course, the conveniences.
Nothing is simple when you have 8.4 million people living within 303 square miles. This seems obvious, but the daily impact of those statistics can't be fully appreciated until you've experienced it. For every individual action, there are four typed, single-spaced pages of restrictions.
So it must be, one could argue, or else there would be anarchy. You can't have 8 million people acting out their individual impulses. What if half the city's residents decided to fire up the Weber for some burgers on a given Saturday? On the other hand, when staffers threw me a birthday party a few days ago, rules prohibited lighting the single candle on my pink-frosted cupcake.
You may have heard about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade against trans fats, which are now banned from restaurant fare in the city. Okay, fine, trans fats are bad for you, and I voluntarily eschew them. Not so the fellow who installed my wireless.
"You can't get a good doughnut in the city anymore," he railed. "I have to drive to Jersey to get a decent doughnut."