Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I'm Not A "Rockerfeller" Republican

I describe myself as conservative, for a New Yorker. Not a lot of people understand what that means. It's more than I'm moderate on some social issues, though that's a part of it. First, you have to know what a "Rockerfeller Republican" is, and how they came to dominate, and ultimately destroy the NYS Republican party. Tuesday's NY Post has two scathing pieces on Rockerfeller, and his legacy. I grew up in NYC, in the '60's and '70's, fleeing to live with my dad in the suburbs in '76. I wasn't very politically aware as a child, but I was raised in a very liberal household. Most of my classmates lived in public housing, and even Republicans in NYC and state believed in huge government social programs. I clearly remember one of my earliest political thoughts: "I would gladly pay higher taxes, to help the poor." Of course, I was years from actually paying taxes, but this was the mindset of many in New York, and Gov. Rockerfeller embodied that ideal.

Here are some excerpts from the Post's op-ed, "He Spent, You Pay:"

It's been 35 years since New York's only four-term governor left the statehouse, but his legacy - unaffordable government and an accompanying economic decline - lives on.

E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute lays out the unhappy details on the preceding page. Suffice it to be said that the principal achievements of the Rockefeller years are to be found in New York's most-expensive-in-the-nation Medicaid system, its hyperactive public-sector unionism and - most starkly - its seemingly endless financial crises.

New York's near bankruptcy during the mid '70s was the most dramatic of these events, but the first cracks appeared in 1971 - and the latest round has Albany looking at a combined $27.5 billion budget deficit over the next five years.

It's not all Rockefeller's fault, of course; New York never lacks for politicians eager to spend public money.

...And it was Rockefeller, together with future US Attorney General John Mitchell, who invented "moral-obligation bonding" as a way to sidestep voter rejection of lavish spending - thereby creating debt that New Yorkers will be paying off for generations.

For two decades, he stifled the state GOP's natural base in favor of his own brand of socially liberal "Rockefeller Republicanism" - a philosophy he hoped someday to impose on the national party as well.

...He was, by his own lights, dedicated to public service - convinced that big, activist government could solve all of society's ills.

"The solution is money," he once said.

So he spent it all.

And New York has never been the same.

Here are some excerpts from E.J. McMahon's piece:

WHEN Nelson Rockefeller was born 100 years ago today, New York state was America's economic powerhouse - with its best years still ahead.

By the time Rockefeller died in 1979, New York was a state in decline, struggling to cope with an exodus of people and businesses stemming from the overwhelming burden of state taxes, debt and spending he had imposed during his 15 years as its governor.

State and local government across the country expanded rapidly during the 1960s and early '70s - but under Rockefeller, New York's government growth was exceptional.

When Rocky first ran for governor in 1958, the Empire State's tax burden was 12 percent above the US average (relative to personal income). By the time he left office at the end of 1973, it had swelled to 28 percent above average, as illustrated by the chart.

Rockefeller quadrupled the state budget and doubled the state income-tax rate. He created scores of new public authorities and let state debt explode - giving birth to a culture of fiscal recklessness that persists in Albany to this day. In countless ways, New Yorkers are still paying a stiff price for Rocky's tenure.

...And while Rockefeller's Metropolitan Transportation Authority stabilized the region's bankrupt suburban railroads, the MTA failed to stem the rapid deterioration of the city's subways during the same period. The Urban Development Corp. (UDC), created by Rockefeller to finance inner-city renewal while overriding local zoning laws, would evolve into an all-purpose vehicle for financing prisons and "economic development" projects of every description - without voter approval, of course. And UDC's default on a bond payment in 1975 would trigger the city's fiscal crisis.

Capital spending by the UDC and other authorities provided extra grease for the governor's legendarily close relationship with construction trade unions. Rockefeller's 1967 Taylor Law effectively saddled New York with a public-sector labor cartel that dominates its politics and inflates its budgets to this day.

As for mental health, Rockefeller's "vanguard" programs failed to prevent the horrific abuse and neglect of patients in state institutions for the developmentally disabled, as exposed by the Willowbrook scandal the year before he left the governor's office.

Rockefeller's expansion of state welfare programs - eagerly abetted by Mayor John Lindsay in New York City - made the state a magnet for the dependent poor by the late 1960s. The governor's belated attempts to stem the tide with tougher work requirements in the early '70s were unsuccessful. The welfare reforms of the '90s finally tamed that problem - but Rockefeller's Medicaid program, the nation's costliest, endures.

A man of seemingly boundless vision, energy and ambition, Nelson Rockefeller demonstrated that there are, indeed, limits to what government can and should try to do. Overlooking his mistakes increases the risk that they will be repeated - which already seems in danger of happening.

State spending over the past five years has surged to unsustainable levels, with annual increases peaking at the highest rates since Rockefeller's last term. The public-sector labor unions that ultimately owe their power to Rockefeller are now pushing for the most massive state tax hikes since the early 1970s.

Several of these points hit home for me, on a personal level. I remember the NYC of the '70's, with my mother being physically abused at Bellvue Hospital's psych ward, and fighting off, or running away from muggers on the subway. I don't blame Rockerfeller for that, of course, but on a political level, liberal social policies were responsible for many of these situations. When government tried to fix every social ill under the sun, it did nothing effectively. In other words, things that were within the government's justified purview (like law enforcement and infrastructure) suffered from neglect, because there just wasn't enough money to go around. That's when they started hitting up the taxpayers, and they haven't stopped sucking the lifeblood out of NY's economy since.

Worse than Rockerfeller were his inheritors in NY's GOP. At least Rocky did it for noble reasons. By the time Pataki came in, NY Republicans were hungry for their share of the pie, and as deep in bed with the corrupt unions and businesses as the Democrats. They were late to the game, though, and couldn't promise to be "more like the Democrats" when it came to social spending, and maintain any serious base of conservative voters. This has resulted in the current state of NY's GOP, which is about to lose it's last position of statewide political power, it's slim control of the Senate.

This is why, while I'm still registered as a Republican, I prefer to call myself a conservative. I sure a heck don't buy into what liberal "Rockerfeller" (also known as "country club") Republicans have done to this state.


BobG said...

Good Post! I left NYC in '73. I was transferred to California where Reagan was governor. What a difference.

Now, California has been run into the ground and the rest of the country is in danger.

Chris Leavitt said...

It is sad when government abuses taxpayers like this. Government policy shouldn't be twisted toward social ends frivolously, as it is now. Kill the vampires, sucking the lifeblood of the economy in liberal-dominated political areas!

Damn if I know how to stop it, except through education.