DUMB CONSPIRACY THEORIES
It’s now clear Jack Welch exercised poor judgment in thinking — let alone tweeting— that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was in the tank for Obama, fudging its numbers in advance of the election. Even at the time, “[this] conspiracy theory drew intense skepticism,” USA Today reported, “including [from] Republicans who back GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Tony Fratto, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, tweeted that the Bureau of Labor Statistics ‘is not manipulating data. Evidence of such would be a scandal of enormous proportions & loss of credibility.’ In another tweet, Fratto said: ‘Stop with the dumb conspiracy theories. Good grief.'”
The former General Electric CEO should have apologized then, and perhaps he will now that it turns out the 2012 jobs numbers were under-reported. As you may have read Friday, “The economy added 335,000 more jobs than originally estimated during all of 2012, including an additional 150,000 in the last quarter of the year.” So the Bureau was estimating low, not high, in the run-up to the election.
DUMB WAR IN IRAQ
Yes, the Hagel confirmation hearing had a rope-a-dope quality to it, kind of like the President’s first debate. But like that debate, where virtually everything the President said was accurate and thoughtful, and much of what his opponent said was inaccurate and misleading, it was really the Republican senators (in my view) who came off badly. John McCain is just so pleased about his “surge,” never mind the 1,200 American lives it cost. He seems to miss the larger context — an unnecessary war that cost 4,400 American lives, 650,000 Iraqi lives, wrecked millions more — and body-slammed our national balance sheet. Chris Hayes led off yesterday with this essay. And the panel discussion that ensued (clickable to the right of that essay) painted a portrait of a veteran intimately familiar with the horrors of war, pragmatic in his thinking, non-ideological, deeply decent, and generally — if not very much at the confirmation hearing — willing to speak his mind. Just what you might want in a Secretary of Defense.
Ed Koch was easy to cook for. All I did was get a roast beef big enough for the eight of us (I figured a pound a head should do it) along with containers of things like cole slaw and potato salad from the local deli and a few pints of ice cream. I think I may have started it off with soup. I know how to heat soup. Obviously, this was all before Charles, who would have been horrified. Paper napkins? But it was fine — all served by me around a $300 oval Door Store table Charles would later replace with one of identical size and shape, but with fluted mahogany legs, hand-made to his specifications at a cost of . . . well, it is best not to speak ill of the dead. (And in truth, of course, Charles was right, as he always was in matters aesthetic.)
We did this twice, a few months apart: The Mayor, me, and six other dark-haired guys in their thirties, mainly — one a judge, all with interesting careers. The mayor had a very good time, eating and holding court. He told us stories and answered our questions which led to more stories. He never asked what any of us were up to or thought; and when, a few times, conversation strayed from him, he disappeared. Still at the table, but far away. We’d ask him another question and he’d snap back on.
(“One of his former aides recalls him saying, after reading the paper, that nothing of note had happened that day,” writes Joe Nocera. “What he meant was that he wasn’t mentioned.”)
I assume “gay things” were discussed. We likely thanked him for his 1978 executive order outlawing job discrimination based on “sexual orientation or affectional preference.” (In 1980, he would extend it to city contractors.) But never in the context that he was gay. Or that his affectional preference ran, very discreetly, to my friend and summer-house mate Dick Nathan.
It was a different time — “vote for Cuomo, not the homo” — and he was the Mayor.
He made the rules clear to me the one time he had me to dinner, even before I was asked to host him. It was just he and I and his gay aide-de-camp (who cooked something), in his very small Greenwich Village apartment . . . and it began with his telling me a story that seemed to come out of nowhere that I think involved a bridge or some cement and some City contract — maybe a contract for cement for the base of a bridge? maybe some zoning issue about where the bridge should be? maybe there was no bridge? maybe a union was involved? — and I had no idea what he was telling me about or why he thought I would be interested, but it ended with his explaining how he had crushed the guy who had done him wrong in this matter, whatever it was. Crushed him. “I never forgive and I never forget,” he smiled sweetly.
Being perhaps even denser than than I am now, it was only after I had left and was walking how did it dawn on me. He was telling me this story, as the introduction to our dinner, just to lay out the rules. Rule #1: “Don’t —- with Ed Koch.” Unspoken Corollary: So clear it was left unspoken.
It was perfectly understandable in the context of the time. Today, with six openly LGBT congressfolk and one openly LGBT senator, with openly LGBT mayors of Houston, Paris, and Berlin, it would be different. But when someone gets as dug into one way of presenting himself as Ed Koch had over so many decades (when asked directly, he would say, “it’s none of your business”), it seems to me unrealistic to require some late-in-life disclosure.
Where it gets problematic — to say the least — is in assessing what considerably more he might have done as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to ravage his City. If you’ve seen or read The Normal Heart, or seen this year’s documentary Oscar-contender How To Survive A Plague, you get why some of the commentaries this weekend have been scathing.
But that should at the very least be leavened by my friend Charles Kaiser’s fond remembrance, here. Ed Koch was in so many ways a great New Yorker. Brilliant, funny, abrasive, hard-charging, trying to do the right thing as best he could.