It is not true that every editor of National Review must run for Mayor of New York. William F. Buckley
Jr., who founded the magazine, ran as a Conservative in 1965, and Rich Lowry,
who edits it today, is considering a run this year. But John O’Sullivan, who
served in between them, never pined for City Hall. The fact that he is a
subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II may have been a factor in his lack of
interest. But foreign citizenship should be no bar to a political career in the
Since Rich Lowry is still deciding whether or not to run, I
have not done anything so vulgar as question him. We (I’m a senior editor at
the magazine) are a small journal of opinion of conservative views; we can slap
down John McCain, David Geffen or Richard Rorty without a qualm, but we have
certain standards which we honor. I can, however, legitimately ask what the
prospects for conservative politics are in New York City generally.
Begin with the Republican Party. Mayor Giuliani is a
Republican by accident. He began his adult life as a Democrat, and in his first
year in office, he campaigned for Mario Cuomo for Governor. He is not a
politician, but a centurion; 2,000 years ago, his ancestors drilled recruits,
slaughtered Goths and crucified thieves. What does he know from deals and
double-talk? As his time ran out, anxious Republicans hoped he would groom a
successor. But the most potent veteran of the Giuliani administration is Bill
Bratton, who hates him, and who is allied with Democrat Mark Green. This is not
the profile of a party builder.
But in fairness, what could the Republican Party offer
Rudolph Giuliani in this city, apart from a ballot line? Con men sometimes find
it convenient to assume the identities of dead people, but they don’t want to
be dead themselves. Fiorello LaGuardia, another nominal Republican Mayor, liked
to say there is no Republican or Democratic way to collect the garbage; what he
meant was, there is no Republican way to do anything successful here, so those
who wear the label must blur partisan identification or be trampled.
In the early 60′s, the Conservative Party argued that this
diagnosis was self-fulfilling; opportunism, they said, works only for
occasional opportunists. Conservative politicians could successfully appeal to New
Yorkers by offering principled solutions to New York’s problems. Mr. Buckley
made the ideal debut run for such a strategy in 1965. Facing John Lindsay,
Republican and Liberal, and Abraham Beame, Democrat, he got only 13.4 percent
of the vote, but an easy third of the attention. The payoff year should have
been 1969: Mayor Lindsay, reduced to the Liberal line, had been a gorgeous
failure. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination was Herman Badillo,
then a figure of the left. White ethnics had not yet completed their flight to
Long Island or New Jersey, but they had slipped loose from their Democratic
moorings. John Marchi, a state senator from Staten Island who had both the
Conservative and the G.O.P. lines, might have scooped them up in a three-man
race. The wrench in the works was Norman Mailer, who siphoned enough white
liberal votes from Mr. Badillo to give the Democratic nod to Mario Procaccino,
a relatively conservative Democrat. Running against two ethnics to his right,
the last WASP won again.
So 1969 was the last game for that game plan. The Irish and
the Italians hemorrhaged away; Jews stuck around a little longer and had their
fling with Ed Koch, who was as far to the right as they would ever go anyway.
The Conservative Party joined the G.O.P. in the cellar of nullity.
When Mr. Giuliani made his freakish run, his backup line was
provided not by the Conservative Party, but by the Liberals. There was
excellent reason for them to do so. Mr. Giuliani is as pro-abortion as Bill
Clinton and more strongly for gay rights and gun control. But classifying Mr.
Giuliani by adding up issues, left and right, does not measure intensity, for
the one issue he cared most about-even more than dung Madonnas-was crime. Which
is better, from a conservative point of view: to back a right-leaning wimp who
does nothing, or an enemy who does one important thing well? George Pataki or
Where does that leave New York conservatives now? They can
fight the war of ideas apart from politics, as the Manhattan Institute does
with considerable success. An aspect of this strategy is smuggling good ideas
to impressionable Democrats. Mark Green says he has learned things about
policing he never knew before. Since he began life as a protégé of Ralph Nader,
he had much to learn, but give him credit for trying. On the Republican side,
Michael Bloomberg wants to show what a lot of money and a few ideas will get
you. (Answer: less money than you started out with.) Herman Badillo has moved
from being Norman Mailer’s unhappy dance partner to being the champion of
standards at City University. He still wants to be Mayor. He has put in his
time; has time passed him by?
Then there is my boss at
National Review. The fact that Rich Lowry was born and raised in Virginia
should be no problem, after 2000. Next to our junior Senator, he is as Old New
York as Mrs. Astor. He has lived and worked in the city; he knows how to get to
Yankee Stadium; he is actually a Yankees fan. The Daily News recently claimed that Mrs. Clinton’s husband could win
a Mayoral election. A campaign by Bubba would be reason enough to hope that
Rich would run. Imagine him saying: “All we want from you, Mr. President, is a
promise that if labor negotiations bog down, you won’t bomb the Sudanese
Conservatives do well to struggle for New York, however
hopeless their efforts. This-not Washington, nor even Los Angeles-is still the
talk and image capital of the nation. If you fake it here, you can make it
anywhere. New York should also hope that conservatives make the effort.
Liberalism and confidence once reigned here hand in hand, but that was a long
time ago. We are in many ways a static city in a shrinking state. Outsiders,
from small towns and other countries, have often done well by us. Strange ideas
could help, too.
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