Will New Yorkers elect a new mayor who dedicated himself to the Sandinistas in the 1980s, honeymooned in Cuba in the 1990s (in violation of a U.S. travel ban), and participated in a New York City Council event honoring Zimbabwe's tyrannous Robert Mugabe in 2002?
Right now, it looks that way. In 1988, Bill de Blasio went to Nicaragua to aid the Marxist, Soviet-supported Sandinistas. He came home, as The New York Times put it, with "a vision of the possibilities of unfettered leftist government." Today, 25 years later, New York City Public Advocate de Blasio, who remains "very proud" of his radical activities (he has since regretted his Mugabe "mistake"), is the front-runner in New York's mayoral race. Recent polls show the Democrat nominee with a whopping 40-point margin over Republican candidate Joe Lohta.
That could change if two things happen: 1) If New Yorkers actually figure out that they are about to elect the most Marxist mayor in Big Apple history; 2) If the concept appalls them. Both are Big Ifs.
Six weeks before Election Day, De Blasio's radicalism has emerged as a significant issue after The New York Times, of all papers, introduced the topic on Sept. 22 under the headline, "A Mayoral Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist." Republican Lhota, a former investment banker, veteran of the Rudy Giuliani administration and, most recently, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, immediately targeted de Blasio's radical roots. Lhota says they explain what he calls de Blasio's "class warfare strategy in New York City."
In a statement, Lhota said: "Bill de Blasio needs to explain himself -- and explain himself now -- to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who escaped Marxist tyranny in Asia, Central America, and from behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe."
Lhota continued: "Mr. de Blasio's involvement with the Sandinistas didn't happen in 1917; it happened 70 years later when the cruelty and intrinsic failure of communism had become crystal clear to anyone with a modicum of reason. Mr. de Blasio's class warfare strategy in New York City is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why."
What was superb about the salvo was its unusual clarity. One thing the left hates and fears -- and by "left," I mean a spectrum of socialists, Marxists, communists, progressives, Alinskyites, liberal collectivists and "card-carrying ACLU members" -- is being defined. Explained. Exposed.
Think back to President Obama's 2008 campaign when "Joe the Plumber" ever so briefly pulled down Candidate Obama's "post-partisan" mask to reveal the spread-the-wealth, socialist beliefs beneath. The Obama campaign, with media cooperation, quickly covered up this political wardrobe malfunction with more warm and fuzzy "hope and change." Also covered up was President Obama's past membership in the socialist New Party, for which, as National Review's Stanley Kurtz recently reported, de Blasio once served as executive director in New York. Similarly, the Obama and de Blasio share close ACORN ties.
Meanwhile, as Americans brace for the federal takeover of one-sixth of the economy with Obamacare, do we know what's hitting us yet? It's called socialism, and it has increasingly transformed the American political landscape since FDR, whom de Blasio, not incidentally in this context, claims as his political hero. Quite unexpectedly, socialism -- or its variant, "democratic socialism" -- has emerged as a key issue in New York City. This past week, Lhota discussed de Blasio's Times-unearthed worldview, which, as Politicker.com reported, "included telling his fellow Sandinista activists that he supported a 'democratic socialism' vision for society."
"His policies haven't indicated any change whatsoever," Lhota said, as quoted in Newsday. "Anybody who loves the Sandinistas as much as he does, anybody who wants to support the Sandinistas, who are a pro-Marxist -- it speaks for itself."
Yes and no. Americans are so grievously under-educated about the tenets of Marxism-Leninism and the horrors they inflicted, including 100 million killed, that Lhota must do even more to explain what he means. He needs to keep talking about how the provenance of de Blasio's policies have less to do with the principles of free people under the U.S. Constitution than with government controls in the old Eastern bloc -- from de Blasio's plans to expand government's role in the economy by controlling prices in the housing market and imposing a higher minimum wage, to degrading the concept of national citizenship by introducing a "Universal City ID card" and allowing driver's licenses for illegal aliens. Lhota needs to explain that "democratic socialism" is never "democratic," and that "socialism" destroys free markets.
It's a heavy load for a mayoral candidate to take on, but, given the polls, Lhota has nothing to lose and everything to gain by arguing that such ideas, which have entered the Democratic Party mainstream (and now lap at the Republican establishment), flow from anti-liberty, collectivist roots.
It is these same roots that the left always tries to obscure, and de Blasio is no different. Initially, he denied having once claimed for himself the "democratic socialist" label. "I am a progressive who believes in an activist approach to government. You can call it whatever the heck you want," the front-runner said, sounding more than a tad defensive.
I call it collectivist code for the expanding intrusion of government control into every facet of private life. If Joe Lhota can clearly explain this to New Yorkers, he just might win.