Editor’s Note: Ten years ago this week, National Review’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., passed away. To commemorate the anniversary of Buckley’s passing, NRO will be reprinting a number of his pieces over the next few days. For more information about the National Review Institute’s efforts to preserve Buckley’s work, please visit the Buckley Legacy Project.
The following statement was originally released to the public on June 24, 1965.
I propose to run for mayor of New York.
I am a Republican. And I intend, for so long as I find it possible to do so — which is into the visible future — to remain a Republican. I seek the honorable designation of the Conservative party, because the Republican designation is not, in New York, available nowadays to anyone in the mainstream of Republican opinion. As witness the behavior of the Republican party’s candidate, Mr. John Lindsay, who, having got hold of the Republican party, now disdains the association; and spends his days, instead, stressing his acceptability to the leftward-most party in New York, the Liberal party. A year ago Mr. Lindsay declined to support the choice of the national Republican party — and of 27 million Republican voters, and of 800,000 New Yorkers — for president. Mr. Lindsay’s Republican party is a rump affair, captive in his and others’ hands, no more representative of the body of Republican thought than the Democratic party in Mississippi is representative of the Democratic party nationally.
The two-party system presupposes an adversary relationship between the two parties. That there is no such relationship in New York Mr. Lindsay makes especially clear when he proposes as running mates members of the Liberal and the Democratic parties. Mr. Lindsay’s Republican party is a sort of personal accessory, unbound to the national party’s candidates, unconcerned with the views of the Republican leadership in Congress, indifferent to the historic role of the Republican party as standing in opposition to those trends of our time that are championed by the collectivist elements of the Democratic party. Mr. Lindsay, described by the New York Times as being “as liberal as a man can be,” qualifies for the support of the Liberal party and of the Republican party only if one supposes that there are no substantial differences between the Republican party and the Liberal party. That there should be is my contention. Yet it is as foolish for a Republican who stands in opposition to those trends of our time to enter a Republican primary in New York City as it would be for Hubert Humphrey to enter a Democratic primary in Mississippi. If Mr. Lindsay is opposed to third parties, perhaps he will take the opportunity to invite the Liberal party to dissolve.
Accordingly, as I say, I have declared my availability to the Conservative party, thinking to give the people of New York an opportunity to vote for a candidate who consults without embarrassment, and who is proud to be guided by them, the root premises of the Republican philosophy of government, the conservative philosophy of government.
I have declared my availability to the Conservative party, thinking to give the people of New York an opportunity to vote for a candidate who consults without embarrassment, and who is proud to be guided by them, the root premises of the Republican philosophy of government, the conservative philosophy of government.
I shall accept the designation if it is offered to me because I continue to respect the principles of the Republican party as they are generally understood out over the country. But also because it has struck me as painfully clear, to judge from their public statements, that the major candidates, while agreeing that New York City is in crisis, are resolutely opposed to discussing the reasons why it is in crisis. Their failure to do so — I speak of Mr. Lindsay, and of Mr. Wagner, and of those who compete to succeed Mr. Wagner as the Democratic candidate — is symptomatic of a political disease that rages in New York, and threatens to contaminate democratic government everywhere in the United States. It consists in its most aggravated form, in an almost otherworldly detachment from the real situation: in running for political office by concealing any significant mention of any of the significant public issues of the day. To run for office under such circumstances is merely a form of personal vanity. Yet the major candidates are correct in saying that New York is in crisis. New York cries for the kind of attention that is not being given to it by those who coolly contrive their campaigns so as to avoid offending the major voting blocs. But to satisfy major voting blocs in their collective capacities is not necessarily to satisfy the individual members of those voting blocs in their separate capacities.
Mr. Wagner is a humane and honest man. But few will deny that after twelve years of his attentions, New York boils with frustration, injustice, and demoralization. The reason being that government designed to placate voting blocs, precisely does so at the expense of individuals. It hardly satisfies the labor-union member who is granted special privileges, special immunities, that permit him special advantages, to live in a city where his wife and daughter are not safe because special privileges, special immunities, are granted in turn to another voting bloc. It hardly benefits a man who can earn an average of $15 an hour wiring a new apartment building, to find that he cannot rent an apartment in that building except by paying a rent that reflects the crushing cost of paying $15 an hour to electricians.
The passion of the last generation has been to refer our problems to extra-local government agencies, most particularly the federal government. So far has this gone that it has now become impossible to effect true reform in any major city without getting relief from some of the nation’s oppressive laws. Two years ago the central nervous system of New York was paralyzed when the newspapers closed down for three months. They closed down as a direct result of the willfulness of a few hundred men using the leverage handed them by a cluster of federal laws. What power did the mayor of New York, or the beleaguered publishers, have to come to the aid of the public — in the wake of a generation’s legislation granting special immunities to the labor unions who are free to conspire together in restraint of trade?
What power does the mayor of New York have to reverse the crime rate in New York City? More powers, to be sure, than the incumbent has exercised, or than the challenger Mr. Lindsay proposes to exercise. But not enough power, given the series of recent Supreme Court decisions in which the rights of the alleged transgressor are regularly preferred over the rights of the established victim.
What recourse, under the existing prohibitions, has the mayor or the city’s educational agencies, to promote a respect for religion in the public schools, the Supreme Court of the United States having ruled against even such prayers as are satisfactory to the spokesmen of the three major faiths practiced in New York City?
The mayor of New York has, of course, considerable power still left to him, by the courageous exercise of which he could improve conditions in the city. But increasingly the government of New York becomes the vassal of the government at Washington. This trend toward subjugation is not opposed by the major candidates for the mayor’s office. On the contrary, Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Wagner are almost always to be found egging the government at Washington on in its extravagances. And then — necessarily — approaching the government at Washington as supplicants, begging it to return to the city some of the income it has taken from it. Thus Mr. Lindsay, a week ago, actually suggested as a solution to the problem of rising costs in the subway system that it be subsidized from revenues taken from bridges whose construction cost (he pointed out) is furnished 90 percent by the federal government — with money (he did not point out) taken in the first instance from New York subway riders — whose payments to the federal government, direct and indirect, vastly exceed disbursements by the federal government, in New York City. Against such economic circumlocutions as these, and the attendant mockery of self-government, someone, somewhere, ought to speak out. I propose to do so.
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In due course, I shall publicize suggested approaches to some of the major problems that face New York. They will be the result of diligent and, I hope, fruitful study, conducted in consultation with distinguished and experienced scholars and public-minded citizens whose collaboration I shall in due course gratefully acknowledge. The recommendations will be guided by the principles of a free and compassionate society, respectful of the rights of the individual, of the limitations of government, and of the needs of community.
At this moment, I am prepared only to suggest the approaches that I will propose to the citizens of New York.
As regards the crime rate, we place no single objective ahead of the necessity to control it. We need, at least until such a moment as the crime rate is reversed, a much larger police force, enjoined to lust after the apprehension of criminals even as politicians lust after the acquisition of votes. Under no circumstances must the police be encumbered by such political irons as civilian-review boards — or by any other contraption whose presumptive concern is for advantageous political relationships, rather than for law and order in our streets. The protection of the individual against the criminal is the first and highest function of government. The failure of government to provide protection is nothing less than the failure of government. The city of New York should investigate the feasibility of providing some kind of indemnity for victims of certain kinds of crime.
The ill-feeling that exists between the races in New York is due in part to a legacy of discrimination and injustice committed by the dominant ethnic groups. The white people owe a debt to the Negro people against whom we have discriminated for generations. That debt we rightly struggle to discharge in various ways, some of them wiser than others, and we should continue to seek out ways to advance the Negro, and other victims of oppression explicit and implicit, by sounder means than undifferentiated infusions of politically deployed cash.
To do this is not enough. We cannot help the Negro by adjourning our standards as to what is, and what is not, the proper behavior for human beings. Family irresponsibility; lawlessness; juvenile delinquency — whatever subtle explanations there may be for the pressures that conduce to them — are nonetheless deplorable, and a matter of urgent social concern. In New York, the principal enemies of the Negro people are those demagogues of their own race before whom our politicians grovel. In 1961 a testimonial dinner was held under the auspices of the freshly installed Democratic administration for Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; presided over by the chief of protocol of President Kennedy’s government, attended by no less than two cabinet members. Those leaders of the Negro people who cherish resentments, who refuse to deplore misconduct among their own people, who feed on the demoralization of the Negro race, ought to be publicly and explicitly disavowed by the political leaders of the city. It is the ultimate act of condescension to suppose that merely because a man is a Negro, one may not denounce him; that because he is a Negro, it is hardly surprising that he is a poor husband, or an absent father, or a delinquent child. Mr. James Baldwin has said that the Negroes in Harlem who throw garbage out on the streets do so as a form of social protest. It is a much higher form of social protest to denounce such reasoning and the men who make it.
There is turmoil in the city’s schools for reasons largely political. The figures, projected forward, suggest a flight from the public schools that may reach the dramatic proportions of the flight in Washington, D.C. The reasons for the flight are not by any means traceable alone to irrational prejudice. Either schools are places where education is the primary consideration, or they are places where the social policies of politicians are the primary consideration. By all means the neighborhood school should be encouraged; the administration of the school decentralized; the uncooperative student sequestered. Special financial inducements should be given to first-rate teachers to persuade them to take on the rigors of teaching undisciplined and uncooperative students. The dilution of education in the interest of a synthetic integration will merely accelerate the flight from the public schools, and leave them without the students who can provide the healthy leadership young people so greatly need from their own companions.
I assume that there are many New Yorkers who take seriously the cliché that New York is in crisis, and who are serious enough to recognize that not a blessed reform of any consequence has been proposed by the major candidates.
The entrenched labor unions have a hold on the city whose anti-social potential has been demonstrated on such occasions as the newspaper strike, and the more recent paralysis of the Port of New York. Remedial legislation is greatly needed. Meanwhile, the police must be instructed to guarantee the safe passage of anyone who crosses a picket line in order to earn money to feed his family and to satisfy a social need. The minimum-wage laws should be abolished, most urgently in their coverage of minors who, denied the work, denied the training, denied the apprenticeships they might enjoy, swell the ranks of the unemployed, and the registers of the police stations. It is inhuman and irrational to endorse an increase in the minimum wage, as the other candidates have done, at a moment when there is unemployment and boredom and waste.
Five hundred thousand New Yorkers receive welfare payments. Those of them who do and are able-bodied, and who are not needed at home to care for their children, should report for duty, in our parks, in our streets, in our development projects, pending their absorption in the labor market. A year’s residence requirement should be instituted to discourage the thoughtless flow of men and women into New York, whose incapacity to absorb them heightens their own frustration, adds to the general demoralization, and continues to add to the high overhead of life for which New York is becoming increasingly infamous.
The beauty and vigor of New York are its principal assets, and are a public trust. The vigor drains away, economically, as the tax rate soars; spiritually, as we live cheek by jowl with problems which we are precluded from solving because of a failure of political nerve. The beauty of New York is threatened by the schematic designs upon it of the social abstractionists who do not look up from their drawing boards for long enough to recognize what it is that makes for human attachments — to little buildings and shops, to areas of repose and excitement: to all those abstractions that so greatly inconvenience the big-think social planners. The obsession with urban renewal must, in due course, be tranquillized, before the city loses its hold on human sentiment.
I intend to do what I can, consistent with minimal resources, to bring these matters up. Hopefully, I will succeed in introducing the other candidates to the New York that seethes with frustration while the politicians conduct their quadrennial charade.
I shall, as I say, in due course elaborate on these observations, and make others relevant to the needs at hand.
I assume that there are many New Yorkers who take seriously the cliché that New York is in crisis, and who are serious enough to recognize that not a blessed reform of any consequence has been proposed by the major candidates. I appeal to them to help themselves and their fellow New Yorkers by voting the Conservative ticket in November.