The Simpson Principle does not refer to Homer but Alan, the now-retired Republican Wyoming Senator who once sat next to me at a press conference announcing the Reagan administration amnesty for illegal immigrants. Conservatives hated amnesty back then, too, and Simpson was regarded as a conservative. When I found myself seated next to him at lunch (my Foundation for the Chamber had done a study on immigration reform), I took the opportunity to quiz him on why he took the lead in this issue. (Those Chamber events were fun: another time, I ended up alone at a table with Gene McCarthy.)
Simpson said, as I remember it, “Well, ideology is great, but eventually you have to use real measures to solve real problems. If you keep flogging ideology when you know it won’t work, you’re a fool. It’s dumb, it’s irresponsible, and it’s wrong.”
You will note that 1) Simpson’s plan didn’t work either, though it wasn’t the plan’s fault, 2) Conservatives still oppose what they call amnesty, and yet haven’t a single rational, practical recommendation for how to handle the 13 million illegal immigrants who have slipped into the country since that Eighties luncheon chat, and 3) both liberals and conservatives have been meeting Simpson’s definition of fool lately.
[Aside: I ran into Simpson at LaGuardia last year, introduced myself and thanked him for that wisdom. He remembered me, amazingly, but didn’t remember that comment. “I said that?” he said. “Wow. I was smart that day. Thanks for reminding me of it. I wish I had run into you a few years ago.”]
One of the primary fools who is running amuck these days is Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is determined to again try the lassez faire, look the other way, “compassionate,” kinder, gentler law enforcement policies of his former boss, the infamous Mayor David Dinkins. In the 1980ss, Dinkins continued the transformation of New York City into a declining, filthy, crime-riddled hell, and only the long, painful, much-criticized introduction of the so-called “broken window” theory into the city’s management by Rudy Giuliani turned the crisis and the city’s fate around.
As chronicled by Myron Magnet on one of my favorite blogs, City Journal, de Blasio is determined to relive the Dinkins experiment, because it would be nice if that way of running a big city works. Already, the completely predictable results are in evidence.
[Mayor de Blasio’s] heavy anti-cop rhetoric, and the ongoing efforts of his city council allies to decriminalize quality-of-life offenses like fare-beating and public urination, threatens to sweep away many of the unskilled hospitality-industry jobs that the orderly New York of Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg nurtured. …Take a walk around the Grand Hyatt and neighboring Grand Central Terminal these days. It’s often like stepping out of H.G. Wells’s time machine straight back into the 1970s or 1980s. Vanderbilt Avenue, in particular, is becoming once again the urinal of the universe, with one block wall-to-wall “bum stands,” as my son, with childhood inventiveness, used to call them: the stolen supermarket shopping cart, the garbage bag full of scavenged cans and bottles for redemption, the prone figure wrapped mummy-like in a filthy blanket. The heart sinks. It took so much effort by so many people to clear up the human wreckage that so many years of liberal “compassion” had created in a dying New York. And to see it all—I can’t put it any better than the esteemed New York Post—“pissed away” by a mayor not smart or perceptive enough to have learned one thing from the experience of the last 20 years, since his own personal demons have left him stuck in the politics of the 1950s and 1960s, is tragic. It is so hard to build; so easy to destroy.
“Dumb and wrong,”
The Simpson Principle.
I hadn’t been aware of what de Blasio’s personal demons were until yet another City Journal post today. Cowabunga:
To call de Blasio a self-made man would be a charitable way of putting it. More accurately, he is a made-up man. Born Warren Wilhelm, Jr., he painfully watched his Loomis- and Yale-educated war-hero father decline into anger, depression, and drunkenness after he lost his federal budget-analyst job in the wake of a congressional probe into his and his wife’s left-wing politics. Sparked by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, who’d known the couple as fellow Time magazine staffers before the war, the investigation cleared both Wilhelms of being Communists but noted their “sympathetic interest in Communism,” which cost de Blasio’s father his security clearance, even though he had shown ample proof of patriotism by giving part of his leg for his country at the Battle of Okinawa, for which he won the Bronze Star. So, despite going on to prestigious posts as a Texaco economist and an Arthur D. Little management consultant, he couldn’t let go of the grievance of being a target of McCarthyism. He destroyed his marriage when his son was only seven, ultimately got fired, and put a bullet through his heart in 1979.
“I have a real respect, and a real anger and sadness at the same time,” said de Blasio, trying to describe his feelings about his father to the New York Times. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do the math on exactly what it all means.” So wounded was he by the triple abandonment of alcoholic stupor, divorce, and then suicide that he junked his father’s name and took his Smith-graduate mother’s maiden name. Returning as a Sandinista-booster from a Nicaraguan trip after NYU and then Columbia graduate school, de Blasio brought his angry radicalism with him when he joined the administration of Mayor David Dinkins, whose placidly feckless Leftism might have seemed tamer than his 33-year-old aide had hoped. But de Blasio found all the fire he wanted in diminutive fellow staffer Chirlane McCray, a black lesbian just as angrily radical.
In America, F. Scott Fitzgerald tells us, we are all free to become our own Platonic conceptions of ourselves (or at least to try), but one senses a messier, less self-assured process at work in the self-invention of de Blasio and McCray. Reader, she married him, despite her years of relationships with women, and she joined her racial grievance—nursed as the only black in a New England high school, and then at Wellesley, where she also felt she “didn’t belong”—to his political grievance as innocent collateral damage of a right-wing witch hunt. They became each other’s completing counterparts—“she’s my most important adviser and the person I’m closest to in the world,” de Blasio has said of McCray—and together they stoked a shared anger against injustices that belonged to an earlier, and largely vanished, America.
How can a responsible political party nominate someone like this? To some extent all leaders work out their inner demons in public life, but when voters see evidence of demons this virulent, they should run.