Rob Astorino would really like you to imagine he’s a Roosevelt.
In the last month of his sure-to-be-doomed candidacy, the GOP’s candidate for governor is drawing a direct comparison between himself and the legendary members of the Roosevelt family, Theodore and Franklin. In making this comparison, Astorino says, notably, he’d “like to think they’d react the way [he] would” in response to politics in Albany and Washington.
He certainly would like to think that way, wouldn’t he? In truth, if he wanted to associate himself with a popular television program, Astorino might do better with “The Big Bang Theory” — it would be just slightly less absurd. For Astorino to hitch his wagon to the legacies of two of the most successful liberal public figures in all of American history — figures who would have opposed his policies wholesale (with the possible exception of his nebulous promises of ethics reform) — is nothing less than a standard conservative gambit of historical misappropriation.
Conservatives do this all the time — misappropriate the golden figures and ages of progressivism and liberalism for their own typical modern conservative ends. Ask a Republican and he/she might tell you that liberal icons Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Abraham Lincoln — or even the Founders — were conservatives.
The reality, of course, is that all of these progressive political figures were vilified by the conservatives of their day, only to have later generations try to claim they were right-wing all along.
If you don’t know much about the Roosevelts, then don’t let Rob Astorino misrepresent their legacies. Theodore was a Republican and Franklin a Democrat, but their positions were most certainly not the small-government, laissez-faire ones of today’s GOP.
Theodore Roosevelt was an anti-monopoly, ultraprogressive Republican in the days when being a Republican meant something far different than it does now: During his political career, he busted trusts, broke up monopolies, and was well-known for regulating down the ghastly libertarian dystopia of the day — for instance, by way of meat inspection.
Then there’s Franklin Roosevelt, who was so liberal he makes modern-day Democrats look like a junior William F. Buckley. In comparing himself to Roosevelt, one wonders if Astorino has ever heard of the New Deal, a policy program of spending and regulations so expansive if proposed today it would make severe conservatives severely hysterical, even though it worked and parts of it last to this day (Social Security, for instance).
As for Astorino: In his “I’m a Roosevelt” speech, literally the first thing he pivots to after comparing himself to them is his support of hydrofracking. (You can justifiably support hydrofracking, but to summon the ghost of the first political environmentalist in doing so is, frankly, ludicrous.)
Next, Astorino remarks that he’ll issue a moratorium on all new statewide regulations and a review of all existent ones. Both Roosevelts, who dramatically expanded the government’s regulatory power, would probably not take such an extreme measure.
Dubious tax plan
He later pivots to his tax plan, the crux of which involves a massive drop in taxes and two flat rates — 4 percent for income below $200,000 a year ($300,000 for couples) and 6 percent for marginal income above that level. This, of course, would mostly affect the bill for the millionaires-and-up, who would see their rates drop from the current rate of 8.82 percent.
As for the rest of us? In December 2011, rates on the middle class dropped to the lowest in over half a century. (This might be why in his speech Astorino has to go back to a 1993 magazine article to back up his claim that New York is a “Tax Hell.”)
So Astorino’s plan wouldn’t really help the middle class, especially since the drop in revenue from letting the super-wealthy slide on their share of the tax burden would simply mean even further cuts to public service and education.
Rather, Astorino just wants to put everyone in the same boat to make his tax plan easier to swallow.
This is all not particularly Rooseveltian, considering FDR raised the top-level federal income tax to 79 percent and then 90 percent, even proposing a marginal tax rate of 100 percent for income over $25,000 — which is about $350,000 today.
Granted, these were federal policies, but it’s impossible to justifiably make the argument that the 32nd president would have supported Astorino’s ultraconservative tax plan when Roosevelt’s justification for that 100 percent figure was literally “Why not?”
Yes, the Roosevelts probably would have agreed with Astorino that Albany is in need of cleaning up. But everyone would agree with that! It’s fantastic that Astorino wants to bring ethics reform to Albany. It’s unfortunate that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s questionable ethical behavior has provided such an opening for Astorino to attack him on.
But the bottom line is that Astorino also wants to bring severely conservative policies that both Roosevelts simply would balk at.
If you’re looking for a Roosevelt, you won’t find him in Rob Astorino, or Andrew Cuomo, who is hardly even a Cuomo when compared to his father’s administration. But in the end, we shouldn’t expect these specious comparisons to stop. As the march of history rolls on, it consistently turns out that on most major issues of the day, the liberals tend to be right, and the conservatives tend not to be.
One day, Republicans of the future will even begin evoking the name of Barack Obama when trying to sell their policies.
Years before they get there, they’ll get nostalgic for Andrew Cuomo, too.
Steve Keller lives in Averill Park and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.