The world of politics has never been an oasis of peace and harmony. By its very nature, democracy is a clash of ideas fueled by ambition. It is not an arena for the faint of heart. As a practitioner of politics and government for more than 50 years, I’m no stranger to political intrigue and combat. But until recently, there was a degree of respect for the other side and for the system itself. There were unwritten lines that were understood and not often crossed.
Nassau County politics can be as tough as it gets, but once the debate or the campaign was over, we almost always left the fight in the arena, and make it personal. Jerry Kremer, for instance, a fellow Herald columnist, was a staunch and powerful Democrat on Long Island and in the state, but I don’t think there was ever a harsh word between us. And there were Democrats such as Mayor Ed Koch and Sen. Joe Lieberman that I worked closely with on issues such as homeland security and combating antisemitism. Of course, the classic example of adversaries fighting hard during the day and having a drink after hours was the relationship between President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill.
Today, that collegiality is almost nonexistent, even within the same party. Republicans who work with Democrats to find bipartisan solutions are labeled RINOS. Democrats who do the same are called sellouts, or worse. Kevin McCarthy forged a bipartisan agreement to keep the government open and was removed from he House speakership by his own party. A centrist Democrat like my friend Henry Cuellar, from Texas, who cooperates with Republicans on border security issues, faced a multi-million-dollar primary campaign in 2022, coordinated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the Squad.”
Trying to make sense of my life, I’m in the process of writing my memoirs, tentatively titled “The Road to God Knows Where,” and came to the chapter on my election to Congress in 1992. Going over my records of that campaign, I was reminded of how tough, hard-fought and close it was.
My opponent was Steve Orlins, a millionaire businessman making his first run for office. I was in my third term as county comptroller. The county had a budget crisis, and Bill Clinton, heading the Democratic ticket, was running strong on Long Island. While I was better known than Orlins, that was a mixed blessing in a bad economy. Besides, Orlins had personal wealth that he used effectively against me, with a massive radio, television and direct-mail campaign. I won by just 3 percentage points.
Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@ liherald.com.