The Rockaway Irregular
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky
Mayor Mike Bloomberg's finally come out of the closet. Our current Republican mayor, who succeeded an earlier successful Republican, Rudy Giuliani, in running things here in New York City, was never really a Republican after all. Who knew?
Back when Bloomberg first decided to seek the mayoralty, the city's Republican Party had a vacant line in the wake of the departure of its popular GOP mayor who was term-limited out. There was little competition for the nomination to succeed Rudy Giuliani on the GOP side, while there was plenty among the Democrats, so Bloomberg decided to bolt his own party (he'd been a life-long Democrat) and "join" the Republicans.
Securing the nomination for his initial campaign, Bloomberg proceeded to ride roughshod over the party he'd bought on the cheap (he didn't want a lot of other Republicans running with him and muddying the waters), while disregarding many of his adopted party's core positions. Yet, having twice gained the support of Republican party organizations in the five boroughs, without pumping any serious money into county GOP coffers or helping to build their organizations, he's finally tossed the GOP overboard with his announced change in party registration as he positions himself for what looks more and more like a maverick run for the White House. Seduced by Bloomberg's great wealth, City Republican leaders apparently got little in return for their passionate swoon into his waiting arms in 2001 and again in 2005.
Now comes the '08 presidential race with the Democratic and Republican fields equally crowded. Unlike 2001, when Bloomberg sought City Hall for the first time, affiliation with the GOP no longer promises a fast track to nomination and so off comes the now useless Republican mantle, to be replaced by a cloak of non-affiliation. Demonstrating a remarkable lack of commitment to the party whose banner he carried in two mayoral races, Mike Bloomberg has simply chosen to cut the GOP loose and move on.
One can't deny that he's been a good city manager, even for those of us who don't agree with many of his policies. In fact, in some ways he's been a better mayor than his famous predecessor whose track record was much more uneven than many Republican partisans like to admit. But at least one can say of Giuliani that he didn't treat the Republican Party like a cheap streetwalker.
Do New York Republicans deserve what they've now gotten for having sold their line to the highest bidder? Probably. But the bigger question is whether the GOP in New York, or nationally, has anything left in its quiver. Having tossed its principles overboard at the federal level by abandoning a commitment to smaller, more fiscally responsible government, and fragmenting now, at the grassroots, as the once winning Republican coalition of conservatives comes apart at the seams in the face of political adversity and cultural conservative intransigence, does the GOP even have a future? Or is Bloomberg, a well-financed independent who likes to play the field, a harbinger of things to come?
The intense partisanship that's infected contemporary American political discourse has deeply unsettled the Republican Party and may still do the same to the Democrats if the majority of Americans ultimately conclude that that party has fallen, irretrievably, under the spell of an increasingly radical left. But if so, where to from here? Have the days of party politics finally run out? Is Bloomberg's latest move signaling the end of party politics as we know it?
George Washington, our first president, wasn't keen on what he called "factions" and often condemned the tendency in our political commonwealth to divide along partisan lines. Indeed, there's something to be said against the notion of overarching party affiliations when these eclipse a commitment to the general good. Yet, the entire history of our republic has been one of party politics. We haven't been free of political parties since we held our first election. They serve as a remarkably useful tool for sorting out the candidates, branding them for easier voter recognition, getting them on the ballot, and sustaining them in the grueling process we call political campaigns.
By moving away from dependence on parties now, is Bloomberg signaling a new era for us, an era when political parties will no longer be relevant? Will great wealth and an increased capacity to communicate, thanks to modern media and the Internet, finally render formal political parties obsolete? Can we hope to sustain a successful democratic society with our parties weakened and sidelined after more than two hundred years of institutionalized factions? I don't know. But I do know that Bloomberg was never really a Republican, despite his money and his words, and nothing proves it more dramatically than his leaving the ranks of the GOP now. firstname.lastname@example.org