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Cruz Has a Point About Big City Values

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.
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Ted Cruz's sneer at "New York values" in the last debate of Republican candidates has stirred outrage, not least from Donald Trump. The Texas senator was trying to affirm his credentials as a hard-line conservative on issues such as abortion and gay rights while reminding Republican voters that Trump's most recent stances are a sharp departure from the views he espoused in a 1999 "Meet the Press" interview, when the mogul said:

Hey, I've lived in New York, in Manhattan all my life, and, you know, my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps.

In response to Cruz, Trump  painted his opponent as trying to disparage New Yorkers, leading to this New York Daily News cover and compelling New York Mayor Bill de Blasio -- in a fundraising e-mail -- to say that Cruz's comments were "an attack on the 8.4 million men and women" of the biggest U.S. city.

But on one level, Cruz was just stating the obvious: Many Americans living outside big cities don't share certain New York values, and there's nothing unusual about this. Similar perceived gaps between city folk and "real people" exist in many countries, and they are an important political issue for any responsible leader. 

In 1919, an editorial in the Schwaebische Merkur, a Stuttgart newspaper, denounced left-wing Berlin by raising the cry, "Berlin is nicht Deutschland!" It wrote:

We in Southern Germany won't put up with it anymore. We want to have a state. And Berlin has these days forfeited its right to be the capital of that state and to represent us, and it has shown itself unworthy of leading.

"Berlin is not Germany" is still a popular saying, especially since the refugee crisis began and liberal Berliners turned out to be much more welcoming of newcomers than more conservative small-town residents. That's just one of the fault lines. Small-town Germany generally is far more socially conservative than the country's capital and most populous city, just as small-town America is less liberal than New York.

"Paris n'est pas la France" is a time-worn sentiment and the title of a book by Bernard Lecomte, former editor of Figaro Magazine, who moved from Paris to Burgundy in 2004. From where he is now, Lecomte sees France's most important issues differently than he did when he lived in the metropolis. He wrote on his blog in December, just as a contentious election campaign drew to a close and the extreme right National Front looked set to score a major win:

From my corner of Yonne, the number one problem is not the National Front or Islam, which nobody talks about at local meetings, but the lack of doctors and Internet connections in large areas unable, because of this, to communicate with the rest of the world and attract tourists or investors.

Britons, of course, argue that London is not the U.K. because it's too affluent to understand the concerns of the rest of the country. "If you are surrounded by very rich people, significant affluence comes to seem average," thriller writer Sean Thomas wrote in a column for the Telegraph. "At the same time, peculiarly metropolitan obsessions take over: green taxes seem more important than tax breaks for the low paid, gay marriage or fox hunting become bizarrely totemic." He summed up:

And so we see the tragedy of London. It’s a world-class city: which means the leaders who dwell here have a world-class ignorance of real life.

In Russia, my birthplace, non-Muscovites harbor similar resentments about those who live inside the city's ring road. Even when they rise to the top in the capital, which is home to one-tenth of Russia's population, their dislike for the affluent, liberal city doesn't go away. In 2013, Sergei Ivanov, President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, said in an interview that "Москва не Россия" -- "Moscow isn't Russia":

All it has is bloggers, journalists and bureaucrats, and in the rest of Russia, there are none of these, it has other people, they work, they make things, they are more down-to-earth and less pretentious.

Throughout the world, a country's No. 1 city is seen as too lax, too wealthy, too self-absorbed to care about the problems of those who earn a living by the sweat of their brow. That is the case in the U.S., too, though it is less centralized and boasts more major urban centers than France, the U.K. or Russia.

Cruz -- a big city dweller himself, but not a New Yorker -- was within his rights when he pointed to Trump's Big Apple affiliation as a potential liability for a Republican candidate. Even if he meant to paint New Yorkers in a negative light, they also recognize that their outlook and values aren't those of small-town America. Trump acknowledged as much in the 1999 interview.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net