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Mon Feb 4, 2013, 10:42 AM

John Lindsay, Ed Koch and the end of liberalism

Remembering when a Republican ignited a Catholic-Jewish middle class revolt, and a Democrat turned right to lead it


The mayoral career of Ed Koch was so long ago that political writers on Twitter joked that young colleagues only learned how to pronounce his name – “kotch,” not “Coke” like the infamous Koch Brothers – last Friday, upon the news that he died at 88. But Koch’s death made me think even farther back, to an earlier New York mayor, John Lindsay.

Growing up in New York, I saw the city of liberal Republican Lindsay become the domain of conservative Democrat Koch, all before I turned twenty, as bitter battles over race, education, unions, cops, and crime shattered the urban birthplace of the New Deal. As New York gathers to remember Koch at a memorial Monday morning, it’s worth thinking about the two mayors, as bookends to an era that began with optimism and ended in cynicism about the multiracial promise of urban America.

A moderate silk stocking Republican elected mayor in an epic 1965 election, Lindsay moved left and became a Democrat over the course of his career. A liberal Democrat, Koch moved right. He never left his party, although he occasionally supported Republican candidates, including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2004, largely because he liked their hawkishness on Israel. The two New York mayors’ journeys tell the story of liberalism’s demise, largely over issues of race, crime and more than we usually acknowledge, Israel.

The patrician Lindsay defeated the decidedly not-patrician Abe Beame, the son of a socialist, who himself became a loyal New Deal liberal. But the liberal Republican also had to fight William F. Buckley, running a backlash campaign against the license supposedly unleashed by liberalism. That was the year of Selma, but also of Watts. (Harlem had endured its own riots a year earlier, triggered, like the Watts eruption, by police brutality.) Lyndon Johnson launched his “War on Poverty” early that year, but ended 1965 with a federal “War on Crime,” to respond to concerns about a wave of lawlessness.

The charismatic Lindsay became a Rorschach test for how one saw New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and maybe for the nation in that entire era. Liberal journalist Jack Newfield, a Lindsay admirer, put it this way in his 2000 obituary: “Lindsay was great on race, but not so great on class. He lacked a certain empathy for the white ethnic communities of the city. . . .The mayor who wanted reconciliation so deeply accidentally created contention and white backlash.” Ed Koch would become the unlikely face of that backlash.



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Reply John Lindsay, Ed Koch and the end of liberalism (Original post)
DonViejo Feb 2013 OP
Drunken Irishman Feb 2013 #1

Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 04:12 PM

1. This really works for all of America in the 70s and 80s...

The flat-out rejection of liberalism in almost every instance.

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