Lesson from the past for Bob Turner

By Kenneth Kowald

As with John C. Liu, I do not know Representative Robert Turner. He is not my congressman (mine wears a fresh flower in his lapel every day and has decided to retire after 15 terms). I followed Mr. Turner’s special election win from a distance, with some degree of concentration.

To say that David Weprin ran a campaign is one of the great laughs of our time. From what I read, his run for the post was more like a crawl. I did see his stupid TV advertising during the last hectic days before the election. I trust he did not pay the people who produced those ads or the people who supposedly helped him with his campaign. But that’s old history.

David is back in Albany and Turner, with the aid of the Tea Party and especially very, very, very religious Jews in Brooklyn, is in Washington. Oh, I did forget Ed Koch, who also endorsed Turner. Some of these endorsements, supposedly, were to send a signal to Barack and his crew that they should never think that Israel could do any wrong — ever. I’ll get to that one in another blog. In the meantime, Ed, whom I consider to have been a very fine mayor, has decided he’s going to vote for Barack regardless. Go figure.

It appears that the Brooklyn Jewish community that voted for Turner is not indicative of the Jewish vote in this country. Recent polls show that the vast majority of the Jews interviewed–like the rest of the American public–is concerned about the economy and about the expanding gap between rich and poor. Israel and Iran are far down on the list of their concerns, as they are with most Americans.

Although I do not know Mr. Turner and, as with Liu, he’ll be lucky if we never meet, we do seem to have something in common. He holds a BA in history from St. John’s University. While most of my credits for an undergraduate degree at CCNY were in English, most of my course work was in history. That’s another story.

So, before getting to Israel and the Brooklyn vote that sent Turner to Congress (he lost the Queens districts), I would like to make some historical comments. I have several reasons for this.

First, is to remind myself of historical events of the recent past. As Mr. Turner and I both know, the study of history is usually confined to the past, the long past or the not-very recent past. Second, is to remind you, dear reader, of the same. Third, is to remind Mr. Turner of what we both know about the study of history.

I work on the assumption that politicians have short attention spans and vacuums of thought when it comes to certain things they don’t want to remember. That, of course, goes for the public as well, because despite too many instances to the contrary, politicians are people, too, just like corporations, as we have been told by one presidential hopeful. Whatever did happen to that poor dog on top of Willard’s car on that trip to Canada?

Recently, two of our friends have told us of having episodes of what has been diagnosed as Transient Global Amnesia. I think many politicians, of any hue, are victims of what I have decided to call Permanent Political Amnesia (PPA). Now that Mr. Turner has set his sights on the United States Senate this year, he might do well to reduce his PPA levels.

But I digress. I hope that what follows may be a lesson or lessons for all of us, including this writer.

(Note: Since Mr . Turner is now seeking a nomination for the Senate, these comments are not only for him but for candidates for the House of Representatives, which Mr. Turner will be leaving.

Daniel Halloran III, also a student of history, may be especially interested in some of this. I would hope all politicians would be. I can dream, after all.

A century ago, Theodore Roosevelt said, “We are all Americans. Our common interests are as broad as the continent.” So much for states rights. TR was a Republican, although many who claim to be Republicans today may have read him out of history years ago. But his is one of the four stone portraits at Mount Rushmore. The others are Washington, a Federalist; Jefferson, the putative father of the Democratic Party, but it was a different thing in those days; and Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president.

So, TR is, rightly, in pretty good company. TR proclaimed a “Square Deal,” which called for conservation of natural resources, control of corporations and consumer protection. Clearly a closet Communist.

Worse yet, TR, who generally followed the Dutch Reformed Church of his ancestors, was for many years a member of Christ Church, an Episcopal parish in Oyster Bay. He did not wave the flag of religion, as so many seem to do today, and he wrote a letter in 1907 explaining why he left off the phrase “In God We Trust” on a $10 gold coin: “To put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege.”

I have no way of knowing this, but I could well believe that TR knew all of Matthew 6, not just the part we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Well worth reading any time.

In 1902, TR appointed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to the Supreme Court, where he had a long and distinguished career. One of his comments in a case was “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” I would imagine that Holmes has been read out of the world by some who claim to be Republicans today. His legacy, like TR’s, is lasting, however.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the Allied forces, which won on the war in Europe in 1945. He became president of Columbia University and then served eight years as president of the United States. Apparently he believed in what was called “Modern Republicanism” and he referred to it as being “conservative when it comes to money and liberal when it comes to human beings.”

He started the Interstate Highway System. He appointed Earl Warren as chief justice of the Supreme Court. The top tax rate during his administration was 90 percent, far higher than it is today. Let me repeat that: The top tax rate during his administration was 90 per cent, far higher than it is today. During most of his terms, there was prosperity.

Today so many sufferers from high levels of PPA keep saying that you can’t have prosperity with higher taxes.

I don’t know what position Ike holds in the Republican pantheon these days, but I would bet some of those actions and those words don’t sit well with many in the Grand Old Party. You rarely hear his name mentioned. It can be a bit like bitter tea for many. And I do mean tea.

Rather than continue this march through recent history now–I will get to Nixon, Carter, Reagan — I’ll let Mr. Turner, you, dear reader, and me take a deep, non-partisan breath.

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