Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Was your support of Bush worth it, Mayor Koch?

The following is an op-ed piece I wrote for the October issue of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice (subscribe here).

When Mayor Ed Koch faced off with Congressman Gerry Nadler during the 2004 Presidential campaign at a local synagogue, he tried to make the case that Bush was better for Israel and therefore deserved the Jewish vote. At the same time he acknowledged that Democrats up and down the line were better on domestic issues and Jews should vote Democratic for Congress.
Given the almost complete lack of US impact on the peace process and the mounting failure that is Iraq, I’d be hard pressed to conclude that the Mayor’s first contention was correct. Based on the state of America today, his second conclusion was right on target, begging the question, was your support of Bush worth it Mayor Koch?

At the time I argued, all too frequently I’m afraid, that Jewish law and Jewish philosophy (certainly from my Conservative Jewish perspective) gave extremely clear direction on whom to support for President and Congress, even for the Pennsylvania legislature in 2004. As we look at the results of Republican rule during 17 of the past 25 years in comparison to Democratic rule for most of the preceding almost 45 years and the most recent 8 year respite, I see nothing but confirmation of my read of political reality: Democratic philosophy is in tune with Jewish philosophy while Republican philosophy is antithetical.

While far from an expert in Jewish studies, I see over and over again support in the Torah for a progressive, Democratic style of governing and challenges to regressive, Republican governing practices. The need for communal structures to enable a just society is clear as is the need for equitable financial support for those communal structures. Similar are the exhortations on integrity and competence in communal leadership. Perhaps of greatest import in looking at Democratic versus Republican governing philosophies is the recognition, repeated in daily prayers, of G-d as the source of whatever good fortune that may result from seemingly personal efforts.

Republican governing principles, brought to stunning clarity in the hurricane Katrina disaster, at the most basic level call for the absence of government wherever possible, leaving personal responsibility and individual charity to fill the gap; to eliminate non-security government function is divine, to outsource a close second.

The push towards elimination begins with Grover Norquist’s “starve the beast” strategy; tax cuts skewed to those least in need of spending cash, serving to put the biggest possible crimp in the federal budget. Further, with elimination as the goal, the “FEMA corollary” is inevitable; competence is no longer even a consideration, let alone a requirement for political appointees. At every turn we see the Torah’s teachings left by the way.

Juxtapose Bill Clinton’s year-after-year improvement in average wages and reduction in poverty rates, balanced-budgets, even budget surpluses and, in comparison, stunning competence in executive appointments against the largest budget deficits on record, worst employment record since Herbert Hoover, stagnant wages for all but the wealthiest of the wealthy, increasing poverty rates (wiping out nearly all of Clinton’s gains) and clear incompetence in executive appointees, and well, we really have to ask Mayor Koch, was your support of Bush worth it?


At 11/14/2005 9:10 PM, Blogger Rep. Mark B. Cohen said...

Of course, his support wasn't worth it from a public policy point of view, but who knows what, if anything, he got out it in private renumeration of one kind or another.

I admired Koch's record as a New York City district leader, councilman, and Congressman. I was deeply disappointed in his performance as mayor: endlessly flirting with Republican politicians, Republican policies, and seeking unsuccessfully to get the Republican mayoral nomination.

The above obervations are based on his extensive public record as chronicled daily in the New York Times. But I had one disturbing personal encounter with him.

During his administration, I was a member and officer of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, an organization that meets during annual conventions of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. The President of NAJL was Assemblyman Alan Hevesi, now a statewide row officer in New York State.

Hevesi set up a meeting of NAJL members with Koch. I assumed that we would get a pleasant private meeting--its length depending on the vagaries of Koch's schedule-- in which he would reflect on what it was like to be a Jewish mayor in a rapidly changing city where the vast majority of American Jews have some roots.

Instead, we were greeted at a public event in which we were used as a media prop for Koch to showcase his hysterical opposition to affirmative action. I walked out with my opinion of Koch lowered dramatically. I was not at all disappointed when he lost to David Dinkins in the 1989 Democratic Mayoral primary.

In Philadelphia, we have had Democratic mayors continuously since 1951. The bitter racial and economic polarization that Koch helped to move to center state in New York City is a key reason why New York last elected a Democratic mayor in 1989, despite an overwhelming Democratic registration lead there.


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