The "Rocky" Sequel I Would Like To See

The "Rocky" Sequel I Would Like To See

The "Rocky" Sequel I Would Like To See
June 15, 2014

The recent passing of the sterling former State Sen. Roy Goodman is a sad reminder of a lost breed of politician: the Rockefeller Republican. 

As hard as it may be to imagine today in a borough without a single Republican elected official, when I was growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the ’80s and ’90s, Rockefeller Republicans made up a significant percentage of my elected officials: sensible and noble leaders like Goodman, Assemblyman John Ravitz, City Councilman Andrew Eristoff and Congressman Bill Green. 

Rockefeller Republicans are sometimes mistakenly characterized these days as having been socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In actuality, however, they were relatively liberal from an economic standpoint, too, particularly in comparison with the overwhelming majority of their party’s members now. Yes, they championed Wall Street and big business—like all but a handful of Democrats on the national level in 2014, including the President—but they understood the virtues of the New Deal, and embraced the social safety net, though they wanted its programs to be administered more responsibly and efficiently. They also pushed for balanced budgets; however, they were not philosophically opposed to raising taxes when necessary to achieve this aim, rather than gutting important services. 

Beyond their approach to fiscal matters, they were generally advocates for good government reform, and strong supporters of affordable public higher education and infrastructure improvement. In regard to foreign policy, they were typically in favor of using America’s military might to promote and protect the country’s strategic and financial interests abroad. 

While I myself am not a Republican, I mourn the decline of this wing of the party, because it offered a genuinely palatable alternative to the one-party rule New York City has now. Whereas the national brand of the GOP, even in its most moderate form, is so out of step with the sensibilities of New Yorkers that we viscerally reject practically any candidates with an “R” next to their name on the ballot, Rockefeller Republicans—named for our former governor, Nelson—were a model of Republican forged in New York by real New Yorkers. They could appeal to our city’s independently minded electorate—Democrats, Republicans, third party members and unaffiliated voters alike—because they were just as eccentric as the rest of us. 

In many ways, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was cut from the same cloth, even though he himself is a Bostonian. Had he applied his billions to expanding the GOP’s tent to encompass more Republicans of his ilk, he could have spawned a new generation of Rockefeller Republicans and renamed them after himself. Unfortunately, however, he used all of the millions he dumped into the state and local Republican parties to subjugate them to his will, rather than refashion the party into a true counterweight to the national GOP, which keeps getting pulled ever farther to the right. 

Even if you don’t believe that in the era of the Tea Party—when any member of the GOP who dares to challenge conservative orthodoxy is denounced as a RINO—that any moderate (or worse, liberal!) Republican from New York could influence the course of the national party, there is ample reason right here at home to hope for the resurrection of the Rockefeller Republican. 

Monopolies rarely spur innovation, and one-party rule generally degenerates into groupthink. The fact that all three of the Big Apple’s citywide elected officials, the Speaker of the City Council and 48 of its 51 members are all Democrats who largely agree with one another and reflect the same political interests, should be deeply concerning to anyone who believes that vigorous, intellectually honest debate and a multiplicity of ideas is the cornerstone of a great government. 

I’m no Republican, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a city where Republicans cease to exist.


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Morgan Pehme