Friday, September 25, 2009
The Paterson Meltdown
Who would ever think that South Carolina and New York would have so much in common? Liberal northern urban center vs. conservative southern rural area?
Yeah, that's what it looks like on the outside --and that's the way it is most of the time. Not this year though: They are both fortunate (?) enough to have governors who are suffering emotional breakdowns in public.
The soap opera of South Carolina's Mark Sanford has been examined over and over. The Appalachian Trail, the affair, the Argentine lover, the press conference that wouldn't end, the TMI e-mails, etc. etc. His wife's moved out and taken the kids with her; Republican members of the legislature have demanded his resignation; he's still hanging on; they're talking impeachment, etc. etc.
The drama of New York's David Paterson has been almost overwhelmed in the larger psychodrama of New York politics over the last two years: Eliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal and subsequent resignation; Paterson's taking office -- and immediately confessing to multiple affairs and drug use; this summer's legislative gridlock created by two state senate Democrats briefly switching over to the Republicans. But everything broke into the open last weekend with The New York Times' front page story that President Obama and the White House were urging the stunningly unpopular Paterson not to run for a full term next year.
This week, it became clear how much of a toll this has taken on Paterson. On Wednesday, he publicly groused that rival Andrew Cuomo, the vastly popular attorney general and likely gubernatorial nominee, was behind the leak to the Times. He also started revealing a bit too much about his once-hoped-for political future:
“I did not sign up for this,” Mr. Paterson said. “I wanted to be lieutenant governor. I had this grand plan that Hillary Clinton was going to become president. Maybe the governor would appoint me to the Senate.”
Prior to being selected lieutenant governor, Paterson had been the minority leader in the state senate, a second generation member of the Harlem political machine that helped elevate his father Basil to Manhattan Borough President. But, as he basically admits, David Paterson never really wanted to be governor. A shocking admission. Chief executive -- mayor, governor, president -- is what most politicians usually aspire to, precisely because that's the Top Dog. But perhaps Paterson, learning from his time in the state senate, hoped and longed for the relative anonymity that a senator can take. Instead, he's stuck in the spotlight and he's not happy with it.
He sounds petulant that he didn't get his way, yet he's angry, frustrated and, of course, embarrassed that the president is pushing him out -- ironically, of a job that Paterson never wanted. (To further confuse the issue, a poll shows that New Yorkers want Paterson out -- but don't want the president forcing him out.) Well, he does have options. Now that New York's highest court has determined that Paterson had the legal authority to appoint a lieutenant governor, he could resign and allow that man, Richard Ravitch to take over. Let him solve the $3 billion budget the state faces.
Ravitch is well-respected across the state. At 76 years of age, he has no interest in running for the office himself next year, so maybe he can be the old grey eminence who can force serious budget cuts out of a legislature that is already voicing impassioned opposition to the idea of more spending cuts.
Will that happen? Tuthfully, one knows. New York's governor seems distraught at what has become of his office. With the White House set against him, he most likely won't run next year -- but the decisions a most unhappy man makes between now and the official end of his term in January 2011 could well make his successor's job even more difficult. If that happens, New Yorkers could literally end up paying a heavy price as its governor goes through a major mid-life crisis on the public stage.
Labels: David Paterson
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Sacrificial Lambs
It takes so little for this happen to a child. A girl in school has oral sex with a boy in school. She becomes a sex offender for the rest of her life. Streaking a school event, as a practical joke, becomes a sex crime in the new America. Two kids “moon” a passerby and are incarcerated in jail as sex offenders, where they may well learn a lesson or two about rape. A teenager, who takes a sexy of photo of him, or herself, is paraded around the community as a “child pornographer” for the rest of his or her life. Two kids in the back seat of a car have fumbling sex. The law says one is an offender because the other is a “victim.” One week later, a birthday passes, and it is no longer a crime. One week’s difference and a life is ruined. In other cases an act that is legal on Monday is illegal on Tuesday because the older of the two turned one year older. That becomes enough to qualify him, or her, as an offender.These laws are not so much protecting children from predators as they are turning them into predators. Look at this chart. Individuals who are legally defined as sex offenders. When you look at the ages of the offenders you see that 14-year-olds are apparently the most sexually dangerous group in America. The rate declines from there, but throughout adolescence the law is far more likely to deem kids as offenders. You may imagine the dirty old man down the street. But with age people are less likely to “offend”. One reason is that they are more mature. But another reason is clear. Once you reach a certain age, having sex with people your own age is normally not considered a crime. The explosion of “youthful sex offenders” is not the result of our kids becoming perverts. It is the result of the law criminalizing what is a normal part of growing up.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
The Overly "Picky" President
Given everything on his plate as president of the United States, why does Barack Obama feel the need to take on a second job -- chairman of the Democratic National Committee? Officially speaking, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine chairs the DNC. But, as is customary when a party controls the White House, its true head is the president. But there should be a certain amount of delicacy in how the White House exerts its explicit partisan political power.
President Obama is choosing not to be delicate in tossing his elbows within the Democratic Party: America woke up Sunday morning to a New York Times headline saying that Obama and the White House political team had decided that unpopular New York Gov. David Paterson should step aside -- not run for a full term next year.
The decision to ask Mr. Paterson to step aside was proposed by political advisers to Mr. Obama, but approved by the president himself, one of the administration officials said.
“Is there concern about the situation in New York? Absolutely,” the second administration official said Saturday evening. “Has that concern been conveyed to the governor? Yes.”
The administration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.
The president’s request was conveyed to the Mr. Paterson by Representative Gregory W. Meeks, a Queens Democrat, who has developed a strong relationship with the Obama administration, they said.
The move against a sitting Democratic governor represents an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president, and is a delicate one, given that Mr. Paterson is one of only two African-American governors in the nation.
But Mr. Obama’s political team and other party leaders have grown increasingly worried that the governor’s unpopularity could drag down Democratic members of Congress in New York, as well as the Democratic-controlled Legislature, in next fall’s election.
Well, the Times story isn't "extraordinary" really: This is actually Obama's fourth intervention in a state race and he hasn't even been president a full year! In fact, his first intervention was also in New York. Obama chose to "clear the field" for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, appointed by Paterson earlier this year to replace Hillary Clinton. Obama reportedly personally called Rep. Steve Israel of Long Island and asked him to not challenge Gillibrand in a primary. Similar pressure (though not necessarily an Obama phone call) was brought to bear against Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
The president has also taken sides in contested primaries in both Colorado and Pennsylvania. The latter one is somewhat understandable in that it involves Arlen Specter who switched parties. In these situations, the party usually stands behind the switcher.
But getting involved in all of these races isn't exactly smart for a sitting president who needs to keep his party united when he's trying to push through controversial legislation. This creates a no-win situation: Even if Obama is successful, he creates a certain amount of ill-will in the party -- and expends precious political capital within the party. On the other hand, if his preferred candidates lose, he ends up looking weaker within his own party.
There's another danger in being this explicitly political: It gives the GOP another line of attack against Obama and the White House. On CBS' Face The Nation, RNC Chairman Michael Steele adroitly (or shamelessly, depending on your perspective), introduced the race card in assessing Obama's attempt to force Paterson out:
MICHAEL STEELE: I found that to be stunning that the White House would send word to one of
only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election. And it just raised a curious point for me.
I think Paterson-- Governor Paterson's numbers are about the same as Governor Corzine's numbers, yet
the President was with Governor Corzine, and I don’t know if there’s been a request made of Governor
Corzine to step down in New Jersey. So I-- I just find it to be stunning and also rather bold.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, you don’t think he's asked him not to run because he's black?
MICHAEL STEELE: Oh, I don’t think that, but I just find-- I mean look, you-- you have so few-- if you're
looking-- if you’re saying it's the numbers, then why isn't there a call for those other Democrat governors
who have low numbers who are in trouble as well? So I just think that it's-- it’s just a curiosity for me that
the President would inject, or the White House would inject itself into that debate when it’s-- I don't think
it's appropriate nor necessary, because it's a primary. If he's going to be challenged he'll be challenged.
And he’ll survive it or not survive it.
BOB SCHIEFFER: How do you think it will play in the African-American community?
MICHAEL STEELE: That will be very interesting to see what the response from black leadership around
the country will be by the President calling for Governor Paterson to step down or-- or not run for election.
Very curious. I-- I’ll be waiting to hear the responses.
Amazingly, Steele said this barely one minute after commending Obama for pushing back against charges that racism was behind criticism of the administration! Now, that's a deft piroutte. In fact, Paterson's numbers are actually far worse than Corzine. And Steele didn't mention that Obama didn't do the same to the other black governor -- Deval Patrick -- who also has poor approval numbers. One big difference between Corzine and Paterson (besides race) is that Corzine is up for this year, and there's hardly time to get somebody else to run in his place (though not unheard of in New Jersey). But the big difference between Corzine and Patrick, on the one hand, and Paterson on the other? The former two are elected governors who have the ability to recapture 51 percent of the support of the people.
Paterson, on the other hand, was never elected governor. He succeeded to the office in the wake of the Eliot Spitzer scandal and resignation. There is no built-in "trust" factor for him to appeal to the public. Besides, while Corzine and Patrick might point to the overall economy as the main source of their problems, Paterson has compounded that same situation with multiple public errors -- including the bungled selection of Gillibrand. He assuredly didn't gain himself much cred with the White House when he helped launch the whole criticism-of-black-politicians-is-racist with a bizarre series of interviews last month.
Ultimately though, Paterson is doomed as much by a shadow looming over him that isn't extant in either New Jersey or Massachusetts -- a viable consensus candidate to run in Paterson's place. Attorney General Andrew match-upsbsp;is overwhelmingly popular in his own right, crushes Paterson in head-to-head matchups and handily defeats the strongest Republican potential opponent, Rudy Giuliani.
So, it's no surprise why Obama would want Paterson out -- but doing so publicly actually makes the situation more problematic. Even if he is a poor candidate, there's no reason to humiliate Paterson -- which the leaking of this story does. Paterson is already sounding quite defiant. Even though Obama will eventually win this fight, he's arguably undermined his above-the-fray moral authority in favor of playing raw political hardball.