Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, according to one of those indisputable old maxims, and after Tuesday’s mayoral election it is likely that the people of New York City are doomed to repeat the bad old days of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Any New Yorker of a certain age should surely well remember that dark era, when taxes skyrocketed and city services went into the clogged and alligator-infested sewers, welfare flourished and crime was rampant, unemployment was high and spirits were low. Although we spent those days in the safe embrace of the peaceable prairie, so far away from New York City that if we were any farther we’d just be that much closer to Los Angeles, we still recall a chilling phone conversation with an old college chum who had moved to the Big Apple and described a daily hell of muggers, panhandlers, passed-out junkies that had to be stepped over on the way through trash-strewn streets to a rare job that didn’t come close to covering the exorbitant cost of living, and tales of political corruption and incompetence awaiting him on the evening news when he finally made his way back to a tiny and astoundingly over-priced apartment. Other friends made the big move to the big city, too, and most soon came back with similar horror stories.
Even the younger New Yorkers should have been reminded by any of the era’s cinematic depictions of the city that still show up on the late show, from “Taxi Driver” to “Death Wish” to “The French Connection,” or even the “Odd Couple” episodes still in re-runs that make light of the ubiquitous street crime and general shabbiness of the city, all of which confirmed an impression of a thoroughly unlivable city. Between all those movies and the vacations that people still spent in New York, as well as the official statistics on crime and tax rates and economic performance, the city had a horrible reputation with that great unwashed swath of the country beyond the Hudson River that was frequently expected to pick up the tab for its profligacy.
It all started in the ‘60s, naturally enough, when the handsome and charismatic Mayor John Lindsey began to fundamentally transform the city with hope and change and every cockamamie scheme that liberalism had ever concocted. It took nearly a decade for the city sink fully into the abyss, but by then the bureaucracy and the dependent vote and the prevailing political climate were so firmly entrenched that it was taken for granted by voters who continued to re-elect the people ruining their city. The reign of Mayor Ed Koch restored some semblance of fiscal sanity to the city’s finances, at least to the point that his famously arrogant city didn’t have to go begging those hicks out in flyover country for bail-outs, but the subsequent brief administration of David Dinkins at long last forced New Yorkers to consider the unthinkable. Dinkins had combined the worst of New York’s utopian liberalism with the mau-mau racialist sensibilities of other city’s black political machines, and the results were so horrible that New Yorkers actually elected a Republican.
The city had been known to elect “progressive” Republicans such as the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia, and even the wildly liberal Lindsey won on a GOP ticket before bolting to his natural home in the Democratic party for a failed presidential bid, but Rudy Giuliani’s win was notable because an actual Republican. The party’s primary voters in flyover country would later reject Giuliani’s presidential ambitions because of his rather northeastern views on guns and abortions and such, but when it came to taxes and regulations and welfare and the coddling of criminals and other governmental impediments to a successful society he was downright Reaganesque.
Our aforementioned college chum who moved to New York City was a die-hard Democrat, despite being a pleasant enough fellow from a small Kansas town, and we still recall the disappointment in his voice as he conceded that the city’s problems were too severe for his brand of liberalism to solve. He noted that the city’s generous welfare state had done nothing to diminish the city’s crime, and that further generosity would require raising taxes to a point that would surely drive away all the taxpayers, so he couldn’t imagine what possible solution there might be. When Giuliani raised taxes and increased revenue with his slightly smaller share of a much larger economy, then spent the money on aggressively policing the streets and drastically reducing the crime rate, even such die-hard Democrats as our friend felt compelled to vote for the Republican’s re-election. New Yorkers continued to elected Senators and Presidents who would happily inflict liberalism on the rest of the country, but in their own backyard they picked a mayor successor was also a Republican, even he quickly switched to independent rather than be embarrassed by the association with those flyover country types, and although his totalitarian instincts led him to such laughed-at initiatives as banning oversized soda cups and salt shakers they also compelled him to continue the successful policies that Giuliani had wrought. Things went well enough that New Yorkers apparently forgot the lessons they had been taught.
The newly-elected mayor, Bill DeBlasio, seems to have never learned those lessons in the first place. Famous for his past support of Nicaragua’s communist Sandinistas and other far-left causes, DeBlasio became New York City’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years by railing against the fact that some New Yorkers are richer than others and by promising to end the “stop and frisk” policy of the police department. He’s not so handsome or charismatic as John Lindsey, but he does have all the hope and change and cockamamie schemes. His jeremiad against the top one percent, currently picking up 43 percent of the city’s tab, is certain to leave the city’s economy and finances in shambles. The “stop and frisk” policy does indeed bump against the Fourth Amendment and is no doubt a burden to many of the law-abiding dark-skinned New Yorkers who are disproportionately stopped and frisked, but it has also played a crucial role in reducing the city’s murder date from six a day to less than one and it will not be the only effective police tactic that DeBlasio halts.
Our guess is that it will be less than a decade before New Yorkers are willing to try another Republican mayor, but more than a decade before they stop trying to impose liberalism on the rest of us.
— Bud Norman