2008-10-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Hard Choices
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

Scanning the Wave last week my wife looked up and said, "Do you know you're mentioned in one of the letters?" I said, "Uhummm," and went back to reading my book. The letter was from a supporter of Democratic Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, taking me to task for supporting her Republican opponent, Jerry Sullivan from Breezy. I had already read it.

"Did you see what it said?" my wife pressed.

"Yeah," I replied, lost in the book I had in my hands.

"From recently reading the verbiage of Jane Deacy and Stuart Mirsky," she read the letter aloud, "it has become apparent that Rockaway's vast right wing conspiracy is in full throttle . . ."

"I know, I read it," I repeated. "Well why is it a 'conspiracy' when Republicans form political groups and advocate for their ideas but not when Democrats do it?" she asked. "Don't Republicans have a right to run candidates and fight for what they believe too?" "Not in the minds of some, I guess," I muttered.

The letter was written by a self-identified high school student and I figured he could be forgiven for latching onto Democratic slogans like "the vast right wing conspiracy" in his zeal to make his fairly partisan point for the incumbent Assemblywoman. Hadn't I written a piece supporting her opponent, after all? Still, I had to admit it bothered me that this young fellow felt so free to impugn the motives of Republicans simply because we were, well, Republicans.

These past eight years have seen a serious lurch toward extremely bitter partisanship as various influential groups in this country, the media, academia and, of course, the Democrats (among whom most of the media and academia are numbered!) have fallen all over themselves to undermine a Republican administration in the White House. Of course, Republicans have themselves to blame, too. George W. Bush has been a less than exemplary communicator in his office and has clearly let the infighting inside his administration get out of control, jeopardizing both his policies and credibility. And he's done nothing to prevent members of his own party from indulging in spending excesses reminiscent of their Democratic predecessors. Indeed, in 2006, American voters rebuffed Republicans, because of this, and handed Congress back to those same Democrats. Now, it looks like they're about to do it again, in spades, handing over the White House for good measure.

With former Bush cabinet official Colin Powell's recent endorsement of Senator Barack Obama we may have seen the final nail driven into the Republican political coffin in this election cycle. If so, we're about to experience that rarity of rarities in the American system: undivided government - with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the drivers' seat. A President Obama may well have his hands full controlling the mad rush to legislate the Great Society's Second Coming once there are no more effective Republican barriers in the Senate. And, while Obama looks to be both smart and strong willed, it's not clear he will even want to. After all, he made his campaign bones on calls for more spending and expansion of government, didn't he?

As we wind down to the final days of this election, now roughly two weeks away, we're confronted with a stark choice. Do we want a homogeneous ideology dominating all branches of our government (don't forget a number of Supreme Court seats will likely need filling in the next president's term, too), or do we at least want a president in the White House who can slow down the inevitable Democratic rush to bigger government and the increased taxation that must inevitably go along with that?

Well, hasn't our economy gone sour under Bush and the Republicans? That's the charge, of course, and it's done a lot of damage to the McCain presidential effort in the final weeks of this campaign. But careful analysis tells a different story. The quasi governmental institutions, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were set up, privatized and protected from oversight by Democrats for decades, lie at the heart of this problem.

Of course, there were economic excesses on the part of investors and consumers, too. Wall Streeter's, and even those of us on Main Street, took temporary leave of our good sense when many of us leveraged up beyond what we could reasonably hope to handle, thinking our home values and stocks could only go higher. But few are prepared to accept blame for our own mistakes. It's so much easier to push it off on someone else, like George W. Bush, who, many now think, should have protected us from ourselves.

Isn't a president kind of like a god after all? Or if he isn't, shouldn't he be?

Of course, in the rush to blame Bush it's too easily forgotten that his administration actually tried to increase regulation over Fannie and Freddie, but was blocked by Democrats, and even some Republicans, in Congress. Fannie and Freddie handed out hefty campaign contributions and otherwise cultivated legislators while generating support from a host of grassroots advocacy groups keen on lowering credit standards to get banks to lend more, thereby taking greater risk. Well we all know what happened when the mortgage backed securities Fannie and Freddie generated based on those loosened lending standards hit our economic system.

So the new president, whoever he is, is going to have his hands full. The policies he adopts and how good he is at getting them implemented will matter. A President Obama, based on his record and rhetoric, is more likely to play footsie with Pelosi and Reid than a President McCain. Americans face a choice this November in how they want to be governed. It's one thing to say that folks are tired of the same old faces but quite another to imagine the Democrats gaining monolithic control, taking the checks out of the balances.

It would be kind of like what we've had here in the 23rd AD for decades. Year in and year out we're represented only by none Democrats at the City and State levels and what has it gotten us? Without competition there's stagnation and self-satisfaction on the part of our pols, along with high taxes, even higher spending leading to off-thecharts debt levels, and, oops, still more taxes to keep pace with even more spending and the debt service required to sustain requisite state borrowings. There's a price to pay for choosing to forgo choice in the electoral process, after all, when we send the same people back to Albany or City Hall, over and over again. And we're paying it.

So the writer of that letter thinks Republicans are some nefarious breed apart, a "vast right wing conspiracy" which, as he puts it, is "intent on removing one of our community's most treasured civil servants . . . Audrey Pheffer." Give me a break. Audrey seems a nice enough lady (I don't know her well enough to say otherwise), but her main claim to fame is showing up at numerous local events, getting her picture in papers like this one, and writing public service announcements that masquerade as press releases. Does that really qualify her to represent us on the state level? And isn't twenty years just too long in a job whose main demand is that she go to a lot of parties and local celebrations while voting the way Democratic leaders tell her so they can continue to raise our taxes and increase spending? With Washington looking like it's about to become a Democratic town over the next few years, can we still afford the same in Albany? rockirreg@aol.com

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