Totalitarian bicyclists

New York City recently started a bike-share program.  It’s my understanding that the program is sponsored by Citibank — a capitalist institution last time I checked — and that participation is voluntary, that is, no one is being forced by brownshirts to ride borrowed bicycles.

According to Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, I may have this all wrong.*

As helpfully transcribed by Talking Points Memo:

“Do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government of the city,” Rabinowitz said when asked what she thought was the motivation behind the program.

“Look, I represent the majority of citizens. . . .The majority of citizens of this city are appalled by what has happened and I would like to say to people who don’t live in New York that this means something much more than the specifics of this dreadful program. It means: envision what happens when you get a government that is run by an autocratic mayor or other leader and a government before which you are helpless. We now look at a city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely begrimed, is the word, by these blazing blue Citi Bank bikes — all of the finest, most picturesque parts of the city. It is shocking to walk around the city to see how much of this they have sneaked under the radar in the interest of the environment.”


“Begrimed”? Is that even a word? And here is the scene that Ms. Rabinowitz finds begrimy:


There are plenty of things in NYC that might properly be called grimy — though it’s possible that Ms. Rabinowitz does not encounter any of them between the limo and the doorman — but this does not seem to satisfy any common language definition of the term.

What this is, of course, is another example of Conservative Linguistic Debasement:  “totalitarian” simply means “something a conservative does not like.”  It doesn’t have to relate to “a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures.”  It just has to piss off a conservative.


* Having sat through most of the video editorial, I agree with James Fallows: “Henceforth when you read the Journal‘s editorials, I invite you to hear this voice, expression, and tone. . . . Onion writers, watch and weep.”

4 thoughts on “Totalitarian bicyclists

  1. joel blau


    Among the editorial staff of the WSJ, Rabinowitz has always been the ideological police chief. You’re right, of course, about her debasement of the word `totalitarian’, though if state expanded the roadway to allow for the easier passage of vehicles, I doubt that she’d raise the same objections about “coercive measures.” In truth, I think what she really objects to is allocation of public space for bicyclists, a politically suspect group whose environmental concerns and dubious lifestyle is just too flagrant an affront to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.


  2. sproulelove

    I don’t know what’s worse – the giggling sycophantic interviewer opening with a gleeful update about a citibike user getting hit by an SUV, or how out of touch Rabinowitz is with New York. How is this woman in a position of power at a major news outlet, even the Journal? These gems from the video are at the top of my list:

    “the bike lobby is all-powerful”
    “every citizen knows, who is in any way sentient, the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs, it is the bicyclists”

    Is that why the current golden era of cycling infrastructure in NYC took 30+ years of tireless advocacy and has resulted in a 20% decrease in traffic fatalities over the last 10 years? Is that why of the 136 pedestrians killed in NYC in 2012, NONE were reportedly killed by cyclists, but all of the 155 pedestrians and cyclists killed in NYC traffic in the same year (15,465 were injured) were killed by motorists, half of whom got no citation whatsoever, and only one of whom was charged with a serious crime?

    To the citibike naysayers, I say don’t knock it ’till you try it, and I much prefer looking at the citiBike rack in my neighborhood over a line of parked cars. NYC is slowly restoring the balance of street use away from just cars, and the change is dramatic. I hope our next mayor doesn’t drop the ball.



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