Reflections on Politics, I

Even though we were at opposite end of the political spectrum, I used to love listening to my father-in-law's war stories about his days in politics. Bill Drohan served a term or two in the New York State Assembly in the late Forties and early Fifties, representing the Riverdale/Spuyen Duyvil section of the Bronx, where I later grew up. By the time I moved to Spuyen Duyvil in 1962, it was filled with apartment buildings that were filled with Democrats; when Bill  represented it, it was still a Republican stronghold of stately single-family homes.

Bill went on to start the American Eagle Republican Club in the Fordham section of the Bronx and, from time to time he would, as he put it, "run for exercise." I'm not even sure what offices he went after, but my wife, Deirdre, remembers a childhood that was always revolving around one political function after another. He served as the head of the New York Pavilion at the World's Fair of 1965-1966 and eventually was appointed to the bench. He finished his career as an Acting Supreme Court Justice in the Bronx. He was a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention at some point, as well as to the 1968 Republican Convention that nominated Tricky Dick Nixon. Although "we" sold most of his collection of campaign buttons (an action Deirdre would now like to clobber me for), we still have a small elephant that's adorned with buttons for GOP stalwarts like Nixon, Reagan, Buckley, Stassen, Baker, Rockefeller and Malcolm Wilson, who was Rocky's lieutenant govenor forever and Bill's political mentor. 

Bill was pretty sharp about the realpolitik of the day, and even the day before. And perhaps a bit prescient, too. "Tammany wasn't so bad," I heard him say more than once. "They were nothing compared to those crooks down on Wall Street." And if he was in an Irish Republican, son-of-a-subway-motorman mood, as he often was, he'd substitute "those Ivy League bastards" for "crooks." 

But a Republican doesn't get to be a judge in the Bronx without knowing how to play nice with others, a trait that everybody seems to agree is missing in politics today. I recently read a story (I can't find it, amazingly, despite my most nimble googling) about two Georgetown grad students who approached some old hand — Tom Brokaw, perhaps — and said that they were on opposite ends of the political spectrum but loved to argue politics with each other over a few beers. This, they had observed, was highly unusual, and they wanted the graybeard to tell them about how things went down in olden days, like back before Reagan. That evening, he did.

And, back in the day, politicians weren't so easy to fit into the straight jackets of ideology, either. The one bill that we know my father-in-law sponsored was signed into law by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey on April 5, 1950, with a pen that is hanging with a signed copy of the bill itself in a glass case on the wall of our entrance hall. It is:

"An ACT to amend the labor law, in relation to prohibiting discrimination on account of race, creed, color or national origin in employment of persons in connection with contracts for or on behalf of the state or a municipality for the manufacture, sale or distribution of materials, equipment or supplies."

Whoda thunk that a bill like that would have been sponsored by a Republican, a good decade before the Civil Rights movement had gotten a toehold? And it didn't even make an exclusion for Ivy League bastards.

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