The Corner

Complexes

Whenever you write in favor of defense spending, or against defense cuts, someone tells you about Eisenhower and the “military-industrial complex,” as though you never heard that phrase before. I discuss this in Impromptus today (and a passel of other subjects as well).

I’d like to mention something else, here on the Corner. Ike spoke of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address as president — January 1961. The world was a lot different in 1961, certainly where defense spending was concerned. In New York, Michael Bloomberg, our recent mayor, gave a farewell address too. It was on December 18 at the Economic Club of New York. There, he introduced a phrase: the “labor-electoral complex.”

This “complex,” he said — this tight relationship between public-sector labor unions and politicians — had “traditionally stymied reform.” Here is a longer chunk of Bloomberg’s speech:

. . . let’s face it: The future that most elected officials worry about most is their own. Winning election or reelection is the goal around which everything else revolves. But we cannot afford for our elected officials to put their own futures ahead of the next generation’s and to continue perpetuating a labor-electoral complex that is undermining our collective future. We need them to look ahead and to address the needs of tomorrow instead of being prisoners to the labor contracts of yesterday.

Simply put, our pension and health-care system must be modernized to be sustained.

I was discussing Bloomberg with a smart conservative friend the other day. He was listing some ways in which the former mayor is underappreciated, by all.

He is essentially friendless now. The Left hates him — portraying him as a heartless plutocrat who made a Dickensian New York and takes special delight in “stopping and frisking” innocent black youth. (The “heartless” bit is especially galling seeing as Bloomberg poured so much of his own money into trying to improve the lives of the poor.) The Right hates him because he is the nanny whose career is defined by an attempt to limit the size of “sugary drinks.”

Bloomberg can’t be judged properly now. It’s too early, and passions are too strong. But history, when she gets around to it, will rate him highly, I think. She may go so far as to call him a great public servant. With Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg presided over a 20-year golden age. We in New York enjoyed a time of tremendous — and surprising — peace and prosperity. It is, among other things, ungrateful to think otherwise.

Not that these words will play in the Iowa caucus or early primaries, so to speak . . .

P.S. A reader writes, “What I find interesting about Eisenhower’s farewell speech is that everyone seems to remember the lamentation about the military-industrial complex, but no one seems to remember the part about how all this was unfortunately necessary.”

I will have more to say about Ike’s speech in a subsequent post. (Sounds like a warning, I know!)

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