Ever since David Paterson became Governor of New York he’s been a different kind of politician. But not a successful one.
It’s a little hard to tell if the morass he finds himself in is situational or personal. Is he a capable but embattled leader forced to make unpopular decisions for the survival of the fiscal and social welfare of his state, or a wily State Senator with ineffectual executive faculties?
His State of the State address was actually a resolute, reasoned address for tough times (yes, I was the lone TV viewer), but his bungles have overshadowed that rhetoric.
Paterson has two big personal problems that have led to his political ones. First, he acts as if normal political guidelines don’t apply to him, yet is neither charismatic nor effective enough to be exempt.
In those early days he was a fresh face to most, perhaps even an exciting to inspiring one, as the state’s first legally blind governor and African American one.
He came into office and acted as a shrewder political mind than he was ever going to get credit for. Perhaps he felt that all he had gleaned growing up around an influential circle would enable him to maneuver common pitfalls and move beyond politics.
After all, his father Basil (is that worth a pesto joke?) rolled deep, with former Mayor David Dinkins, Rep. Charlie Rangel (possessor of one of the more ludicrous voices in Congress, neck-and-neck with Barney Frank), and civil rights activist Percy Sutton, in what was called the Harlem Clubhouse.
Heavy exposure to something up-close and early in life can make you feel that you have mastered it. I thought I was really good at building stuff with Legos; I learned the Danish were much better. For Paterson, he thought he would get more free passes from the establishment and the press based on his unforeseen ascension to office. His most covered blunder, a long, public flirtation with Caroline Kennedy ending with the abrupt naming of Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate is an example of this. It was erratic in its execution.
Paterson’s second problem: he has got to stop telling the truth. It’s killing him.
He must be the 2008-2009 league leader in the Kinsley gaffe. Named after journalist Michael Kinsley it states, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” Joe Biden, of course, is the all-time leader. You just can’t teach that kind of natural talent.
Back to Paterson. This is a man who admitted he used to use cocaine a week into his term. Oh, and that was on the heels of confessing he had been unfaithful to his wife, which he practically brought up at the swearing-in ceremony. Which was days after the news broke that his predecessor had been… (illegally) unfaithful to his wife.
He needs to learn how to filter! It’s like how you don’t tell your wife you saw a beautiful woman on the street on your way home. (As a stay-at-home dad with no wife or kids, I can only guess at this of course.)
Some people can handle his approach; most are put off by it. It would be refreshing, but his admissions are so awkward and uncomfortable. It’s not like when Obama turned the conventional wisdom on its head by saying when he was young he smoked pot and inhaled because “That was the point.” That showed maturity reflecting on youthful indiscretion. Plus it treated the electorate like they aren’t suckers. Or, when, after years of candidates’ mea culpas at a supporter’s off-handed comments, Obama had the common sense to say, “It’s not clear to me why I am apologizing for someone else’s remark.” That demonstrated a reluctance to accept status quo assumptions.
Paterson is just not that good. Last week, with poll numbers so far down there you need to go spelunking to get an accurate read, an Obama Administration leak revealed a lack of confidence in him running for reelection. He shrugged it off, to his credit or demise we shall see.
Then he said, “I did not sign up for this.” The “This” was not low popularity: it was Governor! Did he not see the story? The extrapolation? How far from “I did not sign up for this” is “I don’t really want this job?” Really makes you yearn for another four years, eh? Pull out the credit card and donate from your depleted bank account? And believe me, it wasn’t like in Gladiator when Russell Crowe says, “With all my heart, no,” and then an aging Marcus Aurelius, offering him leadership of Rome, replies, “That is why it must be you!”
That’s not all! Paterson gave us the kind of thing that is often speculated on, but rarely divulged. Which would have been terrifically honest to hear. Except that it underlined his ambivalence about his job. “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.” (He attempted to walk that back this week,)
He went on: “If you ever wanted to know the plan or the course you could take to become unpopular, be governor of this state starting March 17, 2008. No matter who you are, I guarantee you, no one will like you.” Maybe true, but again, is this helpful?
He covered his flank by cautioning, “If I got to a point where I thought that my candidacy was hurting my party, obviously it would be rather self-absorbed to go forward.”
It’s getting close. At this point, lingering affinity for the man is overtaken by the political suicide mission he faces.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is in the awkward but enviable position of waiting for Paterson to fall on his sword or swashbuckling him out of a primary, which right now it appears he can do without unsheathing his saber. And of course Rudy Giuliani finds the current predicament to be entertaining since he would probably lose to Cuomo but take down Paterson, who yesterday challenged his own Meet the Press claim to being “Blind, but not oblivious” by saying he thinks he could beat Rudy.
In addition, D-Pat’s at a fundraising disadvantage because he doesn’t have prior campaign donors to rely on as an unintended incumbent, the way Rudy does from last year’s presidential campaign or any guy named Cuomo does.
So, after the day ends and he unwinds, honest with himself… does he think he can win? Who is excited to vote for Paterson? Won’t any opponent clock him for not being able to corral the State Senate?
Sometimes when it’s you, you can’t see it. Or you’re too stubborn or proud to admit it. You think you’re the exception, that your predecessors were just dim-witted. Y’know, like anyone whoever invaded Russia.