Since we’re now in the portion of the presidential election campaign in which the parties hold their respective national nominating conventions, the urge to find historical comparisons to analyze the candidates will be even stronger than usual. But there is one comparison when contemplating President Obama’s re-election agenda that seems apt, but goes unmentioned: John Lindsay.
Lindsay, like Obama, was young, charismatic and telegenic when he ran for mayor of New York City in the mid-1960s. Like Obama, Lindsay ran as a moderate (he was actually a liberal Republican, but eventually switched parties to run for president as a Democrat), and like Obama Lindsay ran a campaign of hope and optimism at a time of dreary pessimism. But Lindsay also put in place some of the worst public policy New York saw in the 20th century, and the assumptions and outlook that led him to that legislation mirror those of the current occupant of the White House. If Barack Obama wins re-election, he will take office forty years after Lindsay left his, and the latter’s administration offers us a good case study of the weaknesses of Obama’s political instincts.
Jason, your post brings to mind one of the most blistering paragraphs of William F. Buckley’s The Unmaking of a Mayor, his account of his failed 1965 mayoral bid against Lindsay (and Abe Beame).
A modern Justine could, in New York City, wake up in the morning in a room she shares with her unemployed husband and two children, crowd into a subway in which she is hardly able to breathe, disembark at Grand Central and take a crosstown bus which takes twenty minutes to go the ten blocks to her textile loft, work a full day and receive her paycheck from which a sizable deduction is withdrawn in taxes and union fees, return via the same ordeal, prepare supper for her family and tune up the radio to full blast to shield the children from the gamy denunciations her nextdoor neighbor is hurling at her husband, walk a few blocks past hideous buildings to the neighborhood park to breathe a little fresh air, and fall into a coughing fit as the sulphur dioxides excite her latent asthma, go home, and on the way, lose her handbag to a purse-snatcher, sit down to oversee her son’s homework only to trip over the fact that he doesn’t really know the alphabet even though he had his fourteenth birthday yesterday, which he spent in the company of a well-known pusher. She hauls off and smacks him, but he dodges and she bangs her head against the table. The ambulance is slow in coming and at the hospital there is no doctor in attendance. An intern finally materializes and sticks her with a shot of morphine, and she dozes off to sleep. And dreams of John Lindsay.