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Buckley on God, Man, and John V. Lindsay: All New York City Needs Is a Little Rest

THE UNMAKING OF A MAYOR, by William F. Buckley, Jr., The Viking Press, New York, N.Y. 308 pp.

In the office of one of John Lindsay's chief assistants, there hangs (or hung) a portrait of the new mayor captioned "I got my job through the New York Times." One man who would be likely to agree is William F. Buckley Jr., who in his own way got his job--as an ex-politician--through the New York Times as well.

Buckley has it in for the Times. His book The Unmaking of a Mayor is in large part an attack upon New York City liberals and liberal organs for their maltreatment of poor W.F. Buckley. Bitter, however, Buckley is something of a bore. He rants inarticulately and unceasingly about the flagrant untruths told in virtually every newspaper article ever written about him. So if you're in the market for salacious tales about John Lindsay, told salaciously by Bill Buckley, The Unmaking of a Mayor may be just what you haven't got in mind.

Incredibly enough, Buckley does have some provocative views on New York City. If one is willing to wade through the self-vindication--and the life story of the consummately unexciting Conservative Party--reading The Unmaking of a Mayor can offer a certain insight into conservative thinking on urban problems. What one learns is that conservative thinking--even via Buckley--isn't always so crazy as we of Kremlin-on-the-Charles may like to think.

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Approach

Perhaps this is because urban problems somehow defy ideological solution. There is no "liberal" or "conservative" way to increase the water supply. Simple intelligence should be the critical factor in politics at the local level; ideology or, more accurately approach assumes a greater importance in state and national politics.

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Buckley would not be likely to agree with this well-intentioned analysis. It is his contention that the liberals in city government, particularly in New York City, have tried to plaster over major problems with a complex bureaucratic machinery that ultimately compounds rather than rights the evils which prompt its creation.

So far so good. There are a huge number of committees, boards, bureaus, departments and commissions in New York doing very little that is visible to the naked eye--except, of course, absorbing a steady flow of public funds. And they do, as Buckley claims, succeed in totally obscuring who is paying for what, and what is being accomplished by whom.

Buckley, and conservatives of the Buckley stripe, argue that all public functions must be reduced to their smallest common denominator; that the sprawling government bureaucracy must abdicate all but a few essential responsibilities to private individuals and businesses. But the difference between Buckley and, say, Goldwater (whom he clearly admires) is that, where Goldwater's goals are reduced to the same common denominator as his procedures, Buckley will at least argue that what he proposes can bring about some of the very things which the liberals have so far tried and failed to effect.

Integration, for example. Quoth the Conservative Party's position paper:

The purpose of education is to educate, not to promote a synthetic integration by numerically balancing ethnic groups in the classroom...Mature, self-confident and mutually respectful relations between the racse are more a by-product of sound moral education than the automatic result of integrated schools; and the integration of neighborhoods--and of their schools--will inevitably follow upon the establishment of this mutual respect.

Except for the "moral education" part, anyone who has attended an "integrated" New York public school should agree with what Buckley says. For just as segregation goes deeper than the mere forcible separation of the races, so integration goes deeper than simply placing Negroes and whites in the same schools. Ostensibly integrated schools in New York have managed a less overt yet potentially far more dangerous form of segregation all their own: so-called "special progress" classes, which in practice do little more than isolate white students from Negroes and Puerto Ricans.

Even Buckley's faith in--and worship of--the neighborhood school (the importance of which, he says, "cannot be overemphasized") seems wholly defensible, if overplayed. The neighborhood school, really a simple and sound concept, has evolved into a byword for racism because it happens that honest-to-goodness racists are its principal supporters. Here is another example of a dilemma Buckley keeps falling into: his proposals, whether by intention or not, coincide beautifully with the interests of middle-class whites of the Parents and Taxpayers ilk; the Conservative ticket, thus, gets a lot of its support (and votes) from racists, even if its leaders are motivated by other concerns.

So Buckley may be right in claiming that in some ways his philosophy is less racist than that of New York liberals. But the liberals are also right--and in a more important sense--when they assert, to Buckley's avowed astonishment, that he appeals to racist impulses on the part of the voters.

Who Believes It?

On a purely objective count, Buckley's apparent belief that integration in housing will come as a natural consequence of "sound moral education" is questionable. Sure, eventually Negroes and whites (with or without sound moral education) will live in the same quality housing, but can we afford to sit around until it happens? Obviously integration in housing is not very high on Buckley's list of priorities.

On housing in general, Buckley is rightly wary of massive urban renewal in the form of projects--so, at this point, is just about everyone. He advocates the rehabilitation of existing structures. But from this eminently logical beginning premise, Buckley immediately flips out into negativism. "To this end [rehabilitation]," the city should "liberate private investors from bureaucratic harrassment," he asserts in his position paper. It is the same old cliche line. Perhaps if Buckley had had more experience with some of the coarser landlords and real estate men in New York, he might see that it is only "bureaucratic harrassment" which saves (barely) Negro and Puerto Rican tenants from living conditions that would force them en masse out of the city.

Welfare

Buckley on welfare is the book's coup de grace. Apparently convinced there is some kind of concerted mad rush on the part of New Yorkers to get unemployed and thus get unemployment insurance. Buckley decides the answer is to make life impossible for the jobless. Stripped of its appeal, unemployment will then lose its clientele, and presto! A chicken in every pot. The same, naturally, goes for unwed mothers, who sin in the hope of higher welfare benefits. Take away the carrot, Buckley says, and matters will right themselves.

This is sick stuff, and it certainly overshadows the (few) areas in which Buckley has something constructive to offer. Buckley's conservatism seems more a hobby than a conviction. His description of Lindsay as "pompous" serves only to highlight his own incontrovertible pomposity--a quality somehow jarring in a Goldwaterite. And one winds up wondering if Buckley is in fact a conservative at all, or merely a circus impressario who missed his calling.

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