Or, why New Rochelle Republicans have much to learn from Oscar Wilde
What is going on in New Rochelle? The formerly great, and grand Ur American suburb has settled into an advanced middle-aged funk; a smug, self-satisfied state of institutionalized mediocrity. Formerly (yes indeed, more than 40 years ago, already!) known for its compact, vibrant downtown of independent and unique retail stores and eateries (Schrafft’s, O. Mueller Stationery) and examples of American commercial tradition, including Macys, Bloomingdales, McCrory’s and Woolworth’s.
Have the stars have aligned, the vectors of economic and intellectual development intersected in a manner permitting a “perfect storm” of cultural and political anomie. Or is it the natural turning point following plain upper middle class economic triumph? As in; we have reached previously unimagined levels of wealth and acquisitiveness, now what?
Perhaps it would be best to leave the psychologizing and sociological speculation to the professionals of the trade on CNN, FOX and reality TV purveyors of the traditional networks.
For our purposes, the forces of binary Republican and Democratic partisanship have reached homeostasis. Not equals by any stretch of the imagination; the formerly predominant Republican Party, now a seeming perpetual minority, a fossil of its former greatness. The once pitiable and aimless Democratic Party, now acting the permanent majority part, thriving amidst conflicts in its roster of contradictory interest groups. The majority stuck in the reactionary comfort of its own success; the minority forestalled by internal strains of intellectual vapidity, personality dysfunction and ideological perfidy from pitching real solutions to a needful client base.
By endorsing for reelection an incumbent mayor whose record of displaced priorities and managerial dilettantism border on malpractice, New Rochelle Democrats have invited a genuine, good old fashioned American political “throw down” (how about throwing in “in Macy’s window on 34th street?”). Where is the alternative agency ready and willing to enter this yawning void of imagination and leadership and guide voters out of an economic morass of the Democrats’ doing?
Conservative Republicans (and some moderate Democrats) hear the drumroll, but New Rochelle’s “organized” Republican opposition has ignored the call.
At council meetings, debates and hearings, they have refused to join battle with their opponents. This has not prevented the Democrats from wielding rhetorical brickbats of their own. City and state Democrats have denigrated Republican personages as “extreme conservatives,” radicals, and “Tea Party” members without regard to facts, circumstances or sense. Never mind taste. Democratic friends and tormentors, with dreaded disparaging descriptors like “right-wing,” “free-market,” “Constitutionalist,” or “Federalist”, have scorched them. In mixed gatherings, simple mention of the word “Republican” provokes scorn in Democrats; debilitating fevers and immobilizing “shakes” in co-dependent Republicans!
How have political conditions gotten so intolerant? And how has New Rochelle’s Republican leadership become so feckless and impotent?
When Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy rampaged through the nation’s capital in 1950 portraying legitimate political dissidents as Communists; card carrying, fellow-travelling or otherwise, the media exposed his intemperance and the public repudiated his wounding tactics. But the partisan Democrat’s present-day use of the term “Tea Party” as an epithet without regard for the legitimate philosophical concerns of their Republican counterparts is no less hateful and disrespecting. Would Republicans today return fire by calling their tormentors “socialists” or worse, the media would no doubt promptly pounce upon them as “McCarthyites” but the GOP conduct could in no way be regarded as any more unfair than the “Tea-Bagger” (and worse) calumnies of the left.
Such simple incongruences escape the attention of New Rochelle’s organized political minority. It deliberately sidesteps chances to advance the concerns of its constituencies. Here they are identified: small business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers; capitalist borrowers of money and hirers of employees; the classic “harried taxpayer” of lore and political cartoon; defenders of traditions including organized religion, Second Amendment rights and hunting; landlords, developers, contractors and related construction trades; safety and security professionals, and; certain sectors of the professions, including law, medicine and healthcare, investment and commercial banking.
It is the New Rochelle Republican Party’s refusal to defend local, state and national ideals (as identified in literature, web sites and broadcasts) that disqualifies them as a force for change and improvement in their city. And nowhere is its lack of seriousness, dedication to ideals and intellectual rigor more evident than in its failure to nominate candidates this fall.
The party leadership’s refusal to become identified with any of the pressing political issues of the age, from reform of public administrative practices and finance, to the status of undocumented immigrants, the need for infrastructural improvements, the general case for limited government and low-tax fiscal approaches to governance (as advanced by many Republicans seeking the party’s 2016 Presidential nomination) should make an ordinary observer wonder what philosophy it is really championing.
You know you are skirting disaster and defeat when a fellow Republican uses the language of the opposition in ordinary conversation. It is a truism of political life: do not let your opponent frame the issue, or pigeonhole the candidate you support. But so many times have ordinary party workers heard the leadership excoriate a national or regional figure as “too extreme,” “too conservative,” or “out-of-step” with “more enlightened” New Yorkers! Some of the leaders have themselves lost touch with ordinary party “civilians. Spending 15 or so years in the Westchester County legislature will do that to you.
The “night terrors” of New Rochelle Republican careerists are palpable. They strain, contort and contrive to avoid association with the national party. “I am not like that” is one chain of weasel words. “We New Rochelle Republicans” are different” is another. Now; one certainly can appreciate the need to stand on your own as well as stand with your party, disagreeing at one time or another on one serious issue or another. But at some point “issue discretion” goes too far; and the need to distance oneself from the party platform becomes an obsession.
When is the last time you heard a Democrat disparage one of his party’s more embarrassing exponents (say, late racist West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd; ethically-challenged former President Clinton; motor-mouthing, rabble-rousing, race-baiter Al Sharpton; flaked-out “Socialist” Democrat Bernie Sanders (query; how is Sanders’ socialism to be distinguished from the socialist affinities of most of his minority mates in the Democratic Party?).
New Rochelle’s senior county legislator often appears at functions run by the majority. Nothing wrong with that (and certainly no going around that now that the Republicans are apparently the minority for keeps!), but when the emcee starts making fun of Republicans, he might be expected to register protest or seek “equal time.” The long-term city councilman from district two has acknowledged discomfort with regular defense of Republican philosophies of small government and fiscal restraint. It put him in the position of being a constant “nay-sayer” grouchy and uncompassionate! One can understand how painful it is saying “no” to the majority and losing all the time. But wasn’t the guy elected to stand for he or his voters stand for?
After a while you learn that the two longest-standing Republican incumbents in the city; the “Wrinkly-Shirted” senior County Legislator of District 11 and the issues-averse merchant adventurer councilor of Ward Two survive in office the old way. By hiding! Party affiliations and identifications, that is. From leaving off “Republican” from campaign literature and posters. By avoiding controversy in public — as in not opening one’s mouth in public discussions/debates. The councilman has made an art of this. At council meetings and during “citizens-to-be-heard,” the mayor commandeers the microphone, with nary a peep, point or protest.
In 2011, New Rochelle’s temper-tantrum prone Child-Mayor of the Realm crooked a redistricting plan through council that has kept Republicans territorially concentrated and a chronic minority. The long ensconced and comfortably situated Sound Shore councilman above-described smiled impishly through the impassioned presentations of past mayors and the Concerned New Rochelle Citizens’ Redistricting Committee. Passionate advocacy might then have persuaded a Democrat or two to vote for fairness and democratic principle; or at least shamed them into encouraging the opposition.
After a while you learn that hiding one’s “allegiances” (is this giving too much credit?) and affiliations, and distancing oneself from the bedrock beliefs of the Republican Party has its rewards; as in an appreciative Democratic Party not confronting you with any or any serious political opposition. This is rule in the New Rochelle council race and a tendency in the Westchester legislative contest.
This year, the general party membership was surprised to learn that the recent restructuring of the New Rochelle Party organization included no formal nominating committee or rulemaking. It turns out that plenary consideration of candidates was left to — incumbent office holders! Seems the two senior incumbents have arrogated party nomination processes that do not provoke Democratic Party anger or coruscating rhetoric they seek to eliminate turmoil — primarily in their own districts! But a party that averts discussion and debate cannot be considered a serious contender for leadership on ruling principles or even simple institutional reform.
And in light of the party officials/incumbent politicians lack of serious opposition in their re-election; one might ask if electoral confidence inhibits devotion to principle and party.
If the party leadership is so concerned about “what the neighbors might think,” then what drives their interest in politics? If they are not interested in changing the minds of their opponents, then what are they interested in? Personal profit, private glory, the aid and comfort of contributors and supporters, employment for party hangers-on/flunkies/family and friends?
Students of history will recall real instances of courage in the face of persecution and conflict. Leonidas leading his army of Spartans and Greek allies against the Persians at Thermopylae. The 1st Century Israelites choosing liberty in the face of Roman Legions at Masada. Christians bravely enduring the cruelties of Nero and later Roman emperors.
But another, rarer, sublime example inspires my awe and respect. Oscar Wilde, the 19th Century Briton was a brilliant writer and critic, author of plays and books of poetry and criticism. His greatest renown, unfortunately, followed his lawsuit against the Marquess of Queensberry (the creator of the first rulebook for pugilists), who had publicly accused Wilde of having disgraced his family name and embarrassed his son, Lord Alfred Douglas by his homosexual seduction. Stepping boldly, forthrightly and foolhardily into the fray, Wilde chose to defend his reputation by suing the aristocrat for slander. The suit failed and then the father pressed a criminal charge of “gross indecency” (certain homosexual acts) against him the author was convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Wilde’s folly was that his “crime” was incontrovertible; he could have saved expense and his health by ignoring the jibes of the aristocrat and avoiding court. What sets his conduct apart from other “vainglory” in history was his consuming belief in the ideals and the glory of his life choices that caused him to risk everything in their defense.
“The love that dare not speak its name.” The phrase rings down through the years; Wilde’s declaration of faith in the sanctity of his devotion to his youthful (but not underage) friend; his affection’s cerebral, emotional and physical components. But apart from the particulars of this sad story is the compelling brief for self-confident idealism and devotion to cause.
What impels New Rochelle Republicans towards their self-serving conduct? Conduct shortsighted and cheapening. Invited by the Democrats to challenge their 20 years of managerial malpractice and the confused priorities of their mayoral skipper, the GOP stands mute. They have ducked battle with their ideological foe. Importuned to display their most glorious causes and profoundest motivations, they have proffered the commonest and basest displays of personal ambition and proprietary need.
And done no justice to “The party that dare not speak its name!”