Lew Lehrman and the Contingency of History

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 1.09.41 PMIn 1982, New York businessman Lewis Lehrman won the Republican nomination for governor of New York, running that November against Democrat Mario Cuomo. I myself recall the Lehrman campaign fondly—because I almost joined it. (If I joined the Lehrman campaign, my parents, eager to see their son employed at last, drily noted, I might be out of a job the day after the election, whereas if I went to work for Vice President Bush, my other option, I’d be safe until at least 1984.) I’m reminded of all this because a young friend just sent me the link to one of Lehrman’s campaign commercials.

As you’ll see—if you’d like a summary of his positions, start the clip at 2:25—Lehrman ran on tax cuts, economic growth, standing up to the teachers’ unions, and getting tough on crime.

He lost to Cuomo, as you will already have guessed, but—and this is what’s striking—only by 3.5 percent, capturing 47.5 percent of the vote to Cuomo’s 50.9 percent.

Lehrman went on to lead a good and full life, remaining active in business, raising his five children, writing invaluable articles on monetary reform, and joining investor Dick Gilder in turning the Gilder Lehrman Institute into one of the most important repositories of original source materials on American history anywhere in the nation. In business, in philanthropy, and in conservative circles (such as they are), Lehrman remains a revered figure.

628x471-1And yet, just imagine what would have happened if, back in 1982, he had won. With lower taxes, New York State would have experienced some of the growth in the last three decades that has instead been centered almost entirely in the financial services industry in Manhattan. Buffalo, Binghamton, Rochester, Utica — those would have remained viable towns. New York City itself would have thrived — working with Mayor Koch to get tough on crime and clean the place up, Lehrman would have enabled New York to turn around a full dozen years before the 1994 election of Rudy Giuliani finally accomplished the feat. And New York politics would have set an example for the entire Northeastern United States.

In one election in one state back in 1982, had there been a swing of a mere 3.5 percent of the vote, everything —everything — would have been different.ould have remained sane and healthy, offering New Yorkers a vigorous GOP and not the go-along to get-along GOP over which the next Republican governor, George Pataki, would wanly preside. A healthy, growing New York would have set an example for the entire Northeast — and benefitted the entire nation.

Politics matters.

Anyone among the Ricochetti care to name an especially consequential election of his own?

 

Members have made 11 comments.

  1. Profile photo of CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    My dad was involved with the NYS republican party in a small local way and I recall signs for Lew Lehrman in our home…
    I currently live in NY, and one election that was formative for me was the 1994 gubernatorial race between Republican George Pataki and Democrat Mario Cuomo. It angered me that Pataki was a pro-choice politician, so even though I loathed Mario Cuomo and prayed daily for his defeat, I could not bring myself to vote for Pataki. Instead I voted for the Right to Life candidate, and kind of hoped that Pataki would lose by the R-t-L margin… Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, Pataki defeated Mario.
    This 1994 election solidified my dislike of the NYS Republican party. The last gubernatorial election, in 2010, was weird, with the initial Republican primary favorite, Rick Lazio, a total zero of a politician, IMHO, losing to the freak show of Carl Palladino. I don’t know that I could ever bring myself to register as a Republican here.

    • #1
    • May 9, 2014 at 3:09 pm
  2. Profile photo of Jack Richman Member

    New York doesn’t have a functioning Republican Party. In my opinion, Lehrman could have beaten Cuomo if the party had rallied to his candidacy. The party didn’t even pick up a phone. Lehrman was not the establishment candidate and New York Republican “leaders” saw Lehrman’s nomination as more of an affront to their “leadership” than losing to the Democrat. The Republican Party spent decades losing statewide elections and they are quite comfortable with the perquisites of second place.

    • #2
    • May 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm
  3. Profile photo of Rodin Member

    Newt Gingrich collaborated in authoring a book about what would have happened had the Confederacy won the battle at Gettysburg (as it should have). The books conclusion is that Lee would not have finished his encirclement of Washington but would have been defeated elsewhere on the line of march due primarily to the increasing lines of supply for the Confederacy and the increasing density of defensive resources for the Union.

    It is easy to suppose that one thing would make the difference. It never does. It takes many things. The Lehrman administration would have created a good trajectory, but there would be constant forces acting against it that would have had to be defeated. Similarly, although Reagan was a great President, he did not “fix” America for good and forever. Witness how the Obama Administration is squandering what remains of the potential from victory in the Cold War.

    It is always hard, it is never easy. We must learn the lessons that our horticultural forbearers knew: You must internalize discipline and diligence because the natural and unnatural forces you seek to master are ever present and constant.

    • #3
    • May 10, 2014 at 11:04 am
  4. Profile photo of Rodin Member

    But to answer your question: Anyone among the Ricochetti care to name an especially consequential election of his own?

    The one that comes to mind for me is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt by statewide initiative in 2005 to curb spending and weaken union political strength. There were four propositions that he sponsored, any one of which would have improved the state’s future. All four were defeated. Thereafter Schwarzenegger acceded to “the will of the people” and governed as a somewhat moderate Democrat rather than a Republican governor like Reagan or Deukmejian. That is the point California was lost for well and good pending a division of the state into multiple states.

    • #4
    • May 10, 2014 at 11:14 am
  5. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    Peter, it’s sad to think that the authors of Freakonomics disagree with you on Giuliani’s effect on crime in NY City. It seems absurd for them to grasp at another factor of lesser impact (legalizing abortion and its effect on crime) just to ignore what a galvanizing personality and leader Giuliani was.

    • #5
    • May 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm
  6. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    My most consequential election example:
    1964 Goldwater loss. Funny thing happened, though, in this case. Reagan picked up the standard and moved forward. Reagan could see the ascendancy of the conservative ideas that were percolating into the country’s consciousness. Lehrman didn’t have anything like this. It was in the 1980s that the left slowly drew into its hands the reins of power over the Democratic Party and the media. 1994’s election was a great thing but it stripped all conservative thoughts out of the Democratic Party — leaving them with a Bolshevik rump. And we know how a motivated, unified, small group of ruthless people can gain control of a country. 1994 actually ended up helping the hard left in their battle for the Democratic Party. That and the ending of the Cold War.

    • #6
    • May 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm
  7. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Larry Koler:

    Peter, it’s sad to think that the authors of Freakonomics disagree with you on Giuliani’s effect on crime in NY City. It seems absurd for them to grasp at another factor of lesser impact (legalizing abortion and its effect on crime) just to ignore what a galvanizing personality and leader Giuliani was.

    Ah, but this one is easy: Ramesh Ponnuru so thouroughly rebutted the authors of Freakonomics on their theory that abortion solved the crime problem that they issued what amounted to a retraction.

    • #7
    • May 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm
  8. Profile photo of Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Rodin:

    It is always hard, it is never easy. 

     Well and truly said, Rodin.

    • #8
    • May 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm
  9. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    Peter Robinson:

    Larry Koler:

    Peter, it’s sad to think that the authors of Freakonomics disagree with you on Giuliani’s effect on crime in NY City. It seems absurd for them to grasp at another factor of lesser impact (legalizing abortion and its effect on crime) just to ignore what a galvanizing personality and leader Giuliani was.

    Ah, but this one is easy: Ramesh Ponnuru so thouroughly rebutted the authors of Freakonomics on their theory that abortion solved the crime problem that they issued what amounted to a retraction.

     Thanks for the article link, Peter. Very interesting and very convincing.

    • #9
    • May 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm
  10. Profile photo of Irene F. Starkehaus Inactive

    I love Lew!

    • #10
    • May 10, 2014 at 6:05 pm
  11. Profile photo of Frederick Key Inactive

    Thank you for bringing back fond memories, Peter — my first vote ever was cast in that election, for Lew Lehrman. I had turned 18 less than a month before. As for Pataki, New York’s DMV became the envy of the nation during his tenure, so we’ll be putting that on his tombstone. He reformed the DMV!
    One minor quibble: Rudy was first elected mayor in 1993. My new bride’s first Republican vote.

    • #11
    • May 12, 2014 at 5:49 pm