Ed Driscoll

Botching the Basics in the New York Nanny State

“It was Fiorello La Guardia, New York’s greatest mayor ever, who said there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up Gotham’s garbage,” Bob McManus writes in the New York Post:

Which, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t been collected for more than a week now — the current mayor having been brought low by a snowstorm in December.

What would the Little Flower have thought?

First, that his successor-nine-times-removed has been spending far too much time on ephemera — lately, the alleged evils of political partisanship — and not nearly enough on the basics of municipal governance.

And, as a result, he got his pants pulled down by a gaggle of mutinous garbagemen.

Correct on both counts.

La Guardia’s maxim spoke to attention to basics: While there necessarily must be partisanship in government, it rarely has much to do with the delivery of essential services. Keep the fundamentals under control and folks will overlook a lot.

But when a mayoralty comes to be defined by fanciful notions — political labels, bike paths, french fries and other irrelevancies — forgiveness following catastrophe will be a long time coming.

Especially when the mayor’s reaction to the debacle ranges from surly condescension to bewildered resentment to transparently feigned contrition.

Actually, there’s scant evidence that Mike Bloomberg even now knows what hit him — apart from 20-plus inches of snow, of course.

And the sanitation slowdown. Wildcat strike would be too strong a term — wild kitten, maybe. But, still, the mayor couldn’t cope. The truth is that while Mike Bloomberg was off trash talking Democratic/Republican rancor, he lost control of the New York City Department of Sanitation.

And of course, you know there is no way whatsoever that Bloomberg would take a page from the Gipper or Silent Cal’s playbook to deal with this issue:

Ronald Reagan had a philosophy. He also knew how to create a climate. In the first moments of his administration, Ronald Reagan was presented with striking air-traffic controllers who wanted an unbelievably unrealistic wage and benefit increase. The New York Times (!) said in an editorial at the time, “the Reagan Administration has little choice but to risk the walkout and seek help from the courts. For a settlement on the union’s exorbitant terms would set an inflationary precedent for millions of Federal employees.”Of course, the risks were worse than the Times‘s own assessment. And, the Times overlooked an option. Reagan could can their sorry asses. And that is precisely what he did. Reagan fired the strikers, risking a grinding halt to America’s transportation system and economy. The unions and their captive handmaidens, also known as the Democratic party and the national media, went ballistic. How cruel! How heartless! The press profiled dozens of Reagan’s victims. But he hung tough. After all, the Gipper was the man who, when governor of California, said of the Berkeley protestors, “If it takes a bloodbath now, let’s get it over with.”

Christopher DeMuth, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, and one of the smartest men in Christendom, has argued that this was Reagan’s greatest accomplishment. Why? Because it sent the message throughout the American economy that organized labor wasn’t going to spread the disease of Eurosclerosis in the United States. In places like France, unions to this day run the show (unless the Germans phone in new orders).

There was a very serious threat that the same rot of democratic socialism could sink into the pillars of the American economy (remember Nixon’s “wages and price controls,” Carter’s rationing). Reagan’s shot across the bow of the Left woke up corporate managers long accustomed to having the government siding with labor. Reagan stared down the creeping forces of soft-socialism and the American people cheered him for it. All of a sudden, corporate America got the message that they could undergo the painful restructuring that was desperately needed.

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Calvin Coolidge’s handling of the Boston police strike is often seen as the closest parallel to Reagan’s sacking of the controllers. “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, at anytime,” declared silent Cal. Of course, Coolidge said this when he was governor of Massachusetts (I say “of course” because I looked it up and it makes me sound like I knew it already). But it was that statement that got him on Warren Harding’s ticket as vice president (Americans were sick of strikes back then. In 1919 alone there were some 4 million workers on strike, at a cost to the nation of about $4 billion). And it was that attitude that made Coolidge America’s most underrated president.

Or to put it another way: