Sam Uretsky

Government Should Help People Take Care of People

Happy days are here again – in New York anyway. New York Democrats voted decisively to nominate Bill de Blasio as their candidate for mayor. Mr. De Blasio didn’t have much in the way of name recognition or money, and spent most of the time before the election polling fourth in a field of five, but what he did offer was a family that would have been aspirational even in a Disney movie. His family is bi-racial, his children both charming and erudite, and it’s impossible to look at them without thinking that this is the way we want our city, and our country, to be.

In spite of its reputation as a bastion of the Democratic Party, the Democratic nomination is no guarantee of election to the mayoralty. John Lindsay (in the Batman TV series, the mayor of Gotham was named “Linseed.”) and Rudy Giuliani both used the position to run for the Republican nomination for President. The outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg, won two of his three terms as a Republican. Mr. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, was, within reason, a good mayor, who generally supported responsible causes including firearms limitations and a reduction in pediatric obesity, but good causes and responsible behavior can get tiresome. The police department’s stop and frisk program may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was directed against the city’s minority population and caused a great deal of resentment with little to show for it. The mayor’s efforts to reduce obesity by limiting the size of sugared soft drinks was possibly a good idea, but it also symbolized the nanny state at its most intrusive.

Mr. Bloomberg also worked to increase bicycle use in New York to increase exercise and reduce traffic congestion, and tried to reduce smoking by raising taxes to the point where he and a couple of his closest friends were the only New Yorkers who could afford a pack of cigarettes. Mayor Bloomberg had good intentions, but he didn’t know when to stop.

Mr. De Blasio’s candidacy isn’t likely to be hurt by the fact that the Republicans nominated Joseph Lhota, the former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose goal is to correct the liberal tilt in city politics. Recently, the city’s subway system was briefly shut down when two kittens were found on the tracks. Mr. Lhota was the only candidate who said he would not have stopped the trains to protect the kittens. The 8-week-old kittens, now named August and Arthur, are totally adorable, although the people stuck on the subway may have agreed with Mr. Lhota. Still, the Gothamist web site used the headline “Adorable Kittens Frolic On Subway Tracks ...” There is a time to take things seriously, and a time when you just want to escape to “adorable” and “frolic”.

Even the best, most progressive ideas, clean air, diet and exercise, should be taken at a comfortable pace. Red state ideas; brain eating amoeba in the drinking water (Louisiana), paved roads not maintained but replaced with gravel (Texas) and guns in bars (Virginia), shouldn’t be taken at all. We need a government that makes sure that people have enough food, that children can go to the doctor when they’re sick and learn true things in school, and if you’re going to insist that government live on its income, like a family (that’s wrong by the way, but never mind) you should also accept the idea that government pay its bills honestly.

And that’s the message we should be sending. The government is an intermediary by which people take care of each other. At its best, the Code of Federal Regulations is nothing but a lot of footnotes to the Sermon on the Mount. We don’t want the government shut down, but we don’t want a mean spirited government either, and that seems to be all the Republicans have to offer – taking healing from the poor and ill, food from the hungry, and telling lies to children. New York City is sometimes set apart, not part of the “real America” – but the New York City Democrats have a message for the rest of the country: work towards ideals, clean air and water, food for the hungry, healing for the sick, education for all, and pause for kittens. Never forget the kittens.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2013

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