Bella Abzug and Predatory Politics: Nat Hentoff

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
March 30, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 13

Giving politics back its bad name
By Nat Hentoff

Bella Abzug instructs us that by running against Bill Ryan, she is giving voters in the new 20th C.D. a chance to choose "the greater of two goods."

I admire her record greatly, but that statement is bullshit.

Abzug's move is plain old predatory politics. Ryan's seat, any seat, will do.

She took her polls, made her soundings, and concluded that the odds against her were shorter if she tried to unseat Ryan. The latter's record -- one of the most consistently principled in precisely those areas with which Ms. Abzug is most concerned -- no longer counts. The number of times Ryan has been one of a very few standing against the rest of the House no longer counts. He appears to her more vulnerable than any other potential opponents, and so she's going to try to cut him down.

There are other white male congressmen in the city with whom Congresswoman Abzug does have fundamental differences -- John Murphy, for a start. And if she were to defeat one of them, there would be two members of Congress on whom those who think as Ryan and Abzug do would depend. And one less of the other kind. But she is willing to ignore that advantage accruing to the city and to the country. The whole thing, the only thing -- in true Vince Lombardi tradition -- is that Bella have the best chance of winning.

From Ms. Abzug's March 21 announcement of her race against Ryan:

"If the Democratic Party is to recover from the shambles of Florida and conduct a vigorous campaign in 1972 against President Nixon and his military-corporate allies, strong leadership and a commitment to building this new majority are absolutely essential."

From Phil Tracy's "Showdown on the West Side" in last week's Voice: "What her candidacy may accomplish, however, is the final rupture between the various fractions of the reform movement on the West Side. As Ted Weiss, City Councilman for the area, said, 'I doubt anyone can stay out of this fight and my personal feeling is that when it's over there may not be any reform movement left to speak of. Or as Doug Ireland, Bella's campaign manager, wryly observed, 'How does the reform movement form a firing squad? Answer: make a circle.'"

But who is "leading" the reform movement in the making of this suicidal circle? Bella Abzug, that's who. With Doug Ireland's help.

Congresswoman Abzug says (the March 21 statement) that if she loses against Ryan, the result "would tell those who fight the system that they are doomed to be losers."

When your opponent is Bill Ryan, that assertion is arrant chutzpah. If Ryan does lose, those few members of Congress with his quality of integrity and courage in fighting the system will be told that successful predators can come from the left as well as the right.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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