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Why Koch is on Bush’s bandwagon

Page 2 of 2 -- It bears repeating: This is a faithful Democrat talking. And it is as a faithful Democrat that Koch so sharply resists his party's left wing. ("The radicals don't like me," he once wrote. "And they have good reason, because I despise them.") Though he calls himself a "liberal with sanity," he governed the largest city in America as a decided centrist. Twice he was reelected in massive landslides. New Yorkers came to trust Koch's instincts and judgment because they resonated so closely with their own.

And what those instincts and common sense tell Koch today is that nothing matters more than beating back the threat from Islamic terrorists. "I want a president who is willing to go after them before they have a chance to kill us," he says. "Party affiliation is an important consideration," but it's not more important than winning the war.

In his 1984 autobiography, "Mayor," Koch tells of his appearance before the Republican Party's platform committee in 1980.

"I was the first Democratic mayor to do so in anyone's memory. And it caused a stir." For the better part of an hour, Koch gave the Republicans his views on some of the era's most intractable municipal issues, including unfunded federal mandates, block grants, and the heavy burden of Medicaid.

"They were with me on all of these items," Koch recalled -- so much so that when the session ended, GOP Chairman Bill Brock half-jokingly invited him to join the Republican Party. "I respectfully decline," Koch answered.

"Then we all went outside for pictures. There I was asked by a reporter, `Mr. Mayor, isn't this political treason?'

"I said, `If this be treason, make the most of it. But it ain't.' "

It ain't treason this time either. In 1980, Koch's top priority was the fiscal security of New York City. In 2004, it is the national security of the United States. Americans are at war with fanatical enemies, and above all else, they need a commander-in-chief who can face those enemies without flinching.

Koch's political home remains where it has always been -- in the party of FDR and Truman, Humphrey and Moynihan. He is a loyal Democrat. But as JFK once said, sometimes party loyalty asks too much.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is jacoby@globe.com. 

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