New Yorkers of a certain age remember John Lindsay, mayor from 1966 to 1974. Tall and very good looking, he looked like a WASP straight out of central casting, although he did not come from old money. But he grew up in the WASP-world of New York, educated at Buckley, St. Paul’s, and Yale and went to all the right parties.
He was an utterly disastrous mayor of New York, doubling the city’s budget and then some and cooking the books to make ends seem to meet. But he left City Hall before the banks slammed down the window, so it was his successor, Abe Beame (as unWASP-like as they come, extremely short, and anything but good-looking) who reaped the whirlwind Lindsay had sowed. (Beame had helped–he’d been the city controller in the second Lindsay administration.)
His one saving grace was a quick wit. Asked by a reporter about a slightly politically embarrassing remark his wife had made, Lindsay just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bedfellows make strange politics.” When it was pointed out that mayors of New York had never gone on to bigger jobs in politics, he disagreed. He said New York mayors had often gone far: “They’ve gone to Canada, they’ve gone to Europe, they’ve gone to Mexico.”
In a fascinating essay (h/t Instapundit), Paul A. Rahe makes the case that the John Lindsay analog of today is President Barack Obama. While hardly a WASP, Obama too went to prestigious schools and made connections. He too has been spending money like there’s no tomorrow. He too has been remarkably inept. And they both stitched together a new political coalition of the bottom and the top of the socioeconomic pyramid in order to win.
Lindsay’s coalition didn’t last and, Rahe thinks, neither will Obama’s:
The John Lindsay coalition is an exceedingly fragile one. One might even say that it is apt to self-destruct. The material interests of upscale voters and those of Americans dependent on government largesse do not coincide, and in a time of straitened circumstances and widespread unemployment the tensions between those who pay the bulk of the taxes collected and those on the take are apt to be extreme. How many upscale voters want to see their taxes dramatically increased in the near future? It may not be bread alone that determines voting patterns in the U.S., but during economic downturns such concerns loom especially large. I could easily imagine a new coalition taking shape–one that unites upscale voters, working stiffs, and small businessmen against public-sector workers and those who live off government patronage. Such a coalition, forged in a time of suffering, might last a very long time, and, if it did, the number of public-sector workers and of those living off government patronage would steadily decline.
Lindsay won a second term with 42 percent of the vote, beating out a conservative Republican candidate (who had beaten him for that nomination) and a relatively conservative (and extremely inept) Democratic one. Obama, too, will need a lot of help from his opponents to win reelection. Will he get it?