Why Jews in New York should see past the politics of labels
In 1965, William F. Buckley, the founder and standard-bearer of the modern conservative movement, ran for mayor of New York City. Despite wit and erudition recognized even by his bitterest enemies, Buckley never said anything more famous than his response to a reporter’s question: What would he do if he actually won?
His reply: “Demand a recount.”
There was no need for a recount. New York City has never been “threatened” with the prospect of a truly politically conservative mayor. The only question has been how liberal — Republican, Democrat or Fusion — the resident of Gracie Mansion would be, and how he would use the power of the liberal state to govern. And Buckley would probably agree that if the reform of municipal governance is ever to take a free-market turn in New York, only a practical, realistic liberal — an Ed Koch or, in fact, the real Bill de Blasio — can pull it off. Such initiatives certainly will not come from “RINOs” (“Republicans in name only”) such as the detached plutocrat currently in office.
In his October 8 Op-Ed, however, Dovid Margolin tells us that Bill de Blasio is no pragmatic liberal, but a dangerous hard-left Marxist — enamored of “unfettered leftist government” such as the anti-Semitic Nicaraguan Sandinistas. How do we know? Because the young de Blasio made a “humanitarian” (but obviously political) pilgrimage to the Sandinista workers’ paradise in 1988 and returned impressed, unfortunately, with what he had seen. De Blasio has never “renounced” these views — and this, Margolin argues, spells disaster for New York Jews.
What is the math here? (1) Communism was arguably as responsible for as much human misery and Jewish oppression as Nazism; (2) de Blasio never “renounced” the Sandinistas; so (3) “Imagine if an unrepentant Nazi Party sympathizer would be running for mayor of New York?” While some people are inspired by such imaginings, they are of entirely imaginary significance — as long as they are debunked.
Bill de Blasio is neither an anti-Semite nor a friend of anti-Semitism. As those in the greater community know well, the truth is quite the opposite. De Blasio has throughout his career been a consistent friend of the Jewish community and a passionate advocate for many things New York’s Jews want. These include, frankly, a great many things provided to the Orthodox community by a “socialist” regime that both predates and outlasted the defunct Sandinistas — the City of New York.
Unlike the present mayor, however, de Blasio understands that Wall Street and public corporations are neither the only source of New York’s vitality nor the only way to offset the welfare state. In the years since his idealistic youth, Bill de Blasio has rolled up his sleeves to help get government to work for, instead of against, the people and families who build and run New York’s small and medium-sized businesses. Far from oppressing such “kulaks” in the Leninist mode utilized by the present “capitalist” administration, a Mayor de Blasio will have seen and felt first-hand how government overreaching and arrogance can strangle enterprise and the communities that depend on it. His supporters have already observed the efforts he has made in his previous posts to sever the grasp of these tendrils. And they expect that, as mayor, he will do more.
William F. Buckley knew that political office is not for the ideologically pure. Indeed, few Democratic politicians have ever acknowledged the evil of communism or so much as publicly regretted their past enthusiasm for its few seemingly benign accomplishments. But this does not make them Nazis or even mere Marxists. It just makes them Democrats. And in the one-party town that is New York City, Democrats are the party.
Like most politicians, Bill de Blasio will not play the “repudiation” game, because once begun there is never any end to the repudiations demanded. But while other mayoral candidates might, if anyone were listening by then, have publicly praised Harav Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l, upon his passing, how many would have “repudiated” those words upon the wailing of the politically correct? One thing is for sure: Bill de Blasio would not, and he did not. This is taking a stand on what matters.
In the years to come, there will be policy disagreements between Bill de Blasio’s City Hall and the Jewish community. There will be misdirected initiatives, philosophical divergences, and disappointing appointments. Our community is itself no model of ideological uniformity. Despite our common outlook on fundamentals, we break along many lines regarding the policies to push; the compromises to accept; the lines to draw in public life. These inevitable breaches may hurt at times.
But deploying the political grudges of a generation ago in the service of municipal or even national politics hurts us even more. Such an approach was seen during the first election of President Barack Obama. For all his failings from the conservative and Jewish point of view, he has not remotely resembled the confirmed anti-Semite all too many commentators insisted, baselessly and all too publicly, that he would show himself to be. Have these writers repudiated their dire warnings that under Obama, “it” would “happen here”?
Such tactics waste productive political energy and gratuitously alienate natural allies. They also reinforce another canard: That “the Jews” will brand as an anti-Semite anyone who does not share their views (or even the views of a given Jew or group of Jews) on any issue, at any time — even if it is an issue on which Jews disagree. When we as a community move past this approach to politics and advocacy, we too will have achieved our own political maturity as a powerful but small minority in a crowded democracy.
If anything needs repudiation, therefore, it is the heinous juxtaposition of Bill de Blasio’s political past with Nazism or even Marxism. And what “matters” is that New York Jews not fail to distinguish between war criminals and political opponents — especially when those opponents are, in fact, friends. Bill de Blasio is such a friend.
Ron Coleman is a lawyer in New York City.