As Republicans begin to gather for their first-ever national convention in this city, most commentators have forgotten that New York and the G.O.P. share a rich history. To hear the bloviators on television, you’d think the Republican Party’s delegates have landed in an alien and implacably hostile environment. That’s simply not true.
There’s no doubt that New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, and that John Kerry can expect to win the city without breaking a sweat. Nevertheless, it is historically inaccurate to portray New York as an unlikely venue for a Republican convention. Forget, for just a moment, that a Republican has won the last three Mayoral elections. The city’s relationship with the G.O.P. goes back much further.
New York has been and remains a place that intrigues Republicans. It started with the party’s first successful Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, who chose Cooper Union for one of his most important speeches during the 1860 campaign. “Let us have faith that right makes might,” Lincoln told the New Yorkers who turned out to hear this obscure lawyer from Illinois.
The second Republican elected to the Presidency, Ulysses Grant, retired to the Upper East Side in 1884, hoping to build a fortune as a banker. He failed, and died a year later. Grant’s Tomb remains one of the city’s historic treasures. The modern face of the Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt, was born on East 20th Street, served as the city’s police commissioner, ran for Mayor in 1886 and went on to become the youngest President ever in 1901. His spiritual successors-Republicans who believed in a more activist government-soon dominated New York politics. Fiorello LaGuardia was a reform-minded Mayor who showed that Democrats didn’t have a monopoly on urban policy. Thomas E. Dewey challenged the rackets as a district attorney and went on to become a successful Governor, although a somewhat less successful Presidential candidate. Equally successful as the state’s chief executive, and equally frustrated as a would-be President, was Nelson Rockefeller, for whom an entire movement-Rockefeller Republicanism-was named. Its adherents included Jacob Javits and John V. Lindsay.
New York became so important in Republican circles that party elders and leaders flocked here to live or to make connections or to influence national policy. Herbert Hoover retired to New York and lived in the Waldorf-Astoria until his death in 1964. Douglas MacArthur, who pictured himself with a Pennsylvania Avenue address but had to settle for Park Avenue, also lived in the Waldorf until his death. Wendell Wilkie moved here well before he ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, and returned to practice law here until he died in 1944. Dwight Eisenhower moved to Morningside Heights in 1948 when he was named president of Columbia University. Even Richard Nixon-not associated with his love for New York-lived on Fifth Avenue after losing the 1962 Governor’s race in California, and returned to the city briefly in 1980.
New York was also the intellectual birthplace of the modern conservative movement. It was in New York, after all, that William F. Buckley began publishing the National Review a half-century ago.
It is fair to say that New York and the Republican Party are not the antagonists many believe them to be. Let’s hope that remains true long after the delegates have left town.
Where’s the Real Rudy?
Speaking of Republicans who have flourished here, one cannot leave out Rudolph Giuliani, who put the lie to the myth that New York was ungovernable and was hailed-deservedly so-as a hero after his actions on Sept. 11. But Mr. Giuliani’s recent posture is far less flattering: He has been none-too-subtly kissing up to the Republican Party and allowing himself to be trotted around like a show pony for the re-election efforts of George W. Bush. At the convention, he will give a prime-time address which will surely praise the President for his response to the World Trade Center attack, and leave out any mention of how Mr. Bush has turned his back on the city ever since.
There’s a pragmatic reason for Mr. Giuliani’s recent actions, of course: He is more than a little eager to get the Republican nomination for President in 2008, and so is trying to please every Republican he can find, no matter their ideology or values. Since leaving City Hall he has campaigned aggressively for Republican candidates in over 25 states.
But there’s a danger here; the former Mayor must be careful that he doesn’t morph into another right-wing politician and abandon the liberal positions-pro-choice, pro–gun control-that helped him win over New Yorkers. When he occupied City Hall, the key to his success was his candor and direct approach to politics. Mr. Giuliani should continue to be authentic in his approach to running for higher office; there is no reason he should try to be what he most clearly is not.
By shrinking himself down to George Bush’s size, Rudy Giuliani is shortening his own reach.
Ben Stein Writes a Letter
Samuel Johnson once said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” referring not to “a real and generous love of country,” but to “that pretended patriotism” which is a cloak for self-interest. Johnson’s phrase came to mind when reading a piece that Ben Stein wrote on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page on Aug. 18. Mr. Stein, who is what is called a “television personality” these days on account of having hosted the cable-TV show Win Ben Stein’s Money , reprinted a letter he had written for an Army newsletter. His letter is addressed to an Army wife, in response to the Army’s request that he write about “what I would say to make the wives feel appreciated while their husbands are in Iraq.” What follows is a torrent of phony babble and cant in the guise of patriotism, a plug for the war in Iraq which is remarkable only for its pretentious sincerity and barely veiled condescension.
“I have a great life,” Mr. Stein begins his letter, noting that his family “can work wherever we want and buy whatever we want.” He adds, “When we wake up, it is to the sounds of birds.” For all his good fortune, Mr. Stein thanks the anonymous Army wife: “All of this, every bit of it, is thanks to your husband, his brave fellow soldiers, and to the wives who keep the home fires burning while the soldiers are away protecting my family and 140 million other families.”
What twaddle. In the pose of speaking as an average American, Mr. Stein betrays his ingrown elitism: Not everyone in America can “buy whatever” they want, nor do most Americans have the good luck to “wake up to the sounds of birds”; nor do they wake up in Beverly Hills, as Mr. Stein does. He would have readers believe that the men and women overseas have made his lush life possible. In his letter, he doesn’t mention that he was raised in a wealthy Republican home, the son of the free-market economist Herbert Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. His own education (Columbia and Yale Law) as well as his scattered career-speechwriter for Richard Nixon, law professor at Pepperdine University, part-time actor, advertising pitchman-also receives no mention.
Continuing his everyman’s pitch to the Army wife, Mr. Stein proceeds-apparently without irony-to tell her what the life of a military wife is like: They “go to sleep tired and lonely, wake up tired and lonely, and go through the day with a smile on their faces.” Ben Stein knows that the wives go through “desperate hours when the plumbing breaks and there is no husband to fix it, and the even more desperate hours after the kids have gone to bed … and the wives realize that they will be sleeping alone-again, for the 300th night in a row.” We began to gag when we saw that he’d signed the letter, “Love, and I do mean Love, Ben.”
It appears Mr. Stein thinks that when military wives read his letter, they will feel comforted by the thought of Ben Stein waking up to birds chirping, and feel reaffirmed in the cause their husbands are fighting for. When the truth is, many of their husbands are dying and being horribly wounded for reasons no one in the Bush administration has been able to articulate. And one can only imagine what long-term psychological and economic impact the war will have on their husbands and families. Look at what George W. Bush’s war has done to America: We have alienated the entire world, and provided an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.
But Ben Stein doesn’t want the Army wives to dwell on those unpleasant facts. Rather, they should take heart from the fact that he and his loved ones can buy whatever they want. Surely they will rush to thank him for putting it all in perspective.
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