De Blasio’s Victory in New York vs. Florida Debate Is a Wake-Up Call for Conservatives

16 April 2023
‘Florida is choosing the path of burning books,’ the ex-mayor says in painting the Sunshine State as a MAGA-fueled dystopia.


On April 28, a debate between the Democratic former mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, and the Manhattan Institute’s president, Reihan Salam, will be released. Having watched the taping, I can say it’s a much-watch for liberals and conservatives alike for very different reasons.

I expected Mr. DeBlasio, with a governing record to defend, to be the underdog on the question, “Is Florida Eating New York’s Lunch?” The more than 1.6 million former New Yorkers who now call the Sunshine State home would seem to disprove his side of the argument.

The Census shows more New Yorkers relocated to Florida in 2022 than in any year since it joined the union in 1845. New York also has, at almost 10 percent, the highest income tax in the nation, while Florida has none.

The facts, figures, and comparisons of legal and regulatory climates all favored Mr. Salam, so liberals will enjoy seeing Mr. De Blasio prevail. Still, conservatives would do well to watch, not to suffer, but to see just what they’re up against in the arena of ideas.

The debate to be shared on public radio, video, and the Open to Debate formerly known as Intelligence Squared U.S. podcast  was hosted by the non-partisan Open to Debate group, whose mission is to address “the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics.”

Mr. Salam, like many on the right, seemed to interpret avoiding “extreme polarization” as refusing to punch or even block. This posture was striking since he used to be the executive editor of William F. Buckley’s National Review.

Mr. Buckley earned universal praise for his geniality yet never let anyone run roughshod over him. Even when confronting radicals and racists as the host of “Firing Line,” he never showed his belly, marshaling intelligence and humor to lay out the strongest possible case.

Mr. De Blasio, too, has core beliefs. He was unafraid to launch haymakers and score some hits below the belt. Even when the moderator, John Donvan, stepped in to defend Mr. Salam, the mayor would go right on flogging straw dogs.

Like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” from the Jim Croce song, Mr. De Blasio concealed a razor in his shoe and used it to carve up Mr. Salam with such skill, that the man seemed not to notice until he grew woozy.

It was like watching a pitcher on a team I don’t root for throw a perfect game. “Why can’t our guy whip a fastball like that?” Mr. De Blasio pulled off the upset because while Mr. Salam aimed for viewers’ brains, Mr. De Blasio zeroed in on their hearts, painting Florida as an intolerant, dystopian hellscape dominated by “MAGA extremism.”

Florida is choosing a path of banning books, Mr. De Blasio said, and disallowing a woman’s right to choose. Florida’s turning against trans youth. Despite the state having larger black and Hispanic populations, he said it was hostile to diversity.

Mr. De Blasio also warned as the Democratic senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan did in 1969  that Florida would soon be underwater due to greenhouse gas, and heralded the Empire State’s social spending while sidestepping that its unsustainable deficit is the nation’s largest.

When I factor in pre-K for my child, Mr. De Blasio said, quoting a new arrival from Seattle, my cost of living is actually cheaper. I could almost hear the picture of Thomas Sowell in the book behind Mr. Salam screaming that this is tempting people to New York on the promise the state will give them cash stolen from their neighbors.

Mr. De Blasio also touted his city’s rent control and $15 minimum wage. Conservatives used to have answers for these subjects: If rent control works, why does Gotham have the highest rent in the country? What about the minimum wage pricing out entry-level jobs, etc.?

The left ought to watch this debate to exalt victory and the right to relearn the lesson of the 2022 midterms that statistics won’t win elections for them, and until they learn to wield the rhetorical razor once more, the left is going to go right on charging lunch to their tabs.