Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bookbag: William F. Buckley on the Republican Party in New York State

It wasn't ego that made William F. Buckley run for mayor in 1965. He just wanted to put a dent in John Lindsay's career, which he worried would drag the Republican Party to the left. With that in mind, here is his description of the New York 17th (in Manhattan), the unlikeliest Republican stronghold in America:
Lindsay's home district is probably the most fabled in the United States. It shelters not only just about all the resident financial, social, and artistic elite of New York but also probably the densest national concentration of vegetarians, pacifists, hermaphrodites, junkies, Communists, Randites, clam-juice-and-betel-nut eaters; plus, also, a sprinkling of quite normal people. It is, as I have noted, preponderantly Democratic, although it has a perverse tradition of going "Republican" indeed has done so uninterruptedly ever since 1937.

In that year Bruce Barton (of Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn; author of The Man Nobody Knows) was elected Congressman, and although he was a firebrand tory, utterly opposed to the New Deal, he was uproariously popular, even while pledging to devote himself to the repeal of one obsolete law each week, and firmly opposing entry into the Second World War. He was, indeed, the Barton of Roosevelt's "Martin, Barton, and Fish," the big political anti-doxology of the late thirties. Barton stepped out of the Seventeenth and ran for the Senate in 1940, lost, and was succeeded by Republican Joseph Clark Baldwin, every bit as liberal as his predecessor had been conservative
so much so that in 1944 Republican Boss Tim Curran flatly refused to endorse him for re-election.

Baldwin was enraged. "They said that I did not represent the Republicans in the district. My opinion is to the contrary. They want me on the line on reactionary measures, and I won't do it. You can't be elected by reactionaries in my district. There are only 29,000 Republican. I was elected [n 1944] with 73,000 votes, which means that some 50,000 independents voted for me." He finished his lament with a wonderful sentence: "For years you had to be a reactionary to get nominated in the Republican Party and a liberal to get elected."

Not quite accurate, considering that his predecessor was Barton, and his successor would be Frederic Coudert, who, in the characterization of the historian of the Seventeenth Congressional District, Caspar Citron, "will remain in history as the prototype of the arch-conservative on both the economic and foreign fronts." Baldwin contested Coudert in a primary and was drastically (five to one) beaten.

Coudert lasted six terms, winning his last one by the slimmest of margins. He withdrew partly as a matter of general fatigue, partly because Lindsay had more or less made it plain that he would, if necessary, challenge him in a primary contest; and Coudert, already resentful over the frequency of Congressional elections, did not want yet another political contest on his agenda.
However, when Norman Mailer ran for mayor in 1969, that was ego.

Bonus question for the better-informed: Presumably Frederic Coudert Jr., Baldwin's successor in Congress, is related to Frederic Coudert Sr. and, by extension, Condé Nast's first wife. What is the exact connection, though? Coudert the elder was 66 when the younger was born, but I suppose that doesn't prove they weren't father and son.

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