There’s not an election or primary ’round these parts for months yet. So imagine my surprise last weekend upon checking the mail and seeing an envelope from one of my Senators here in the Empire State, Kirsten Gillibrand (D). I had grown unused to receiving political mail, least of all from someone other than Michael Bloomberg, who strafed my mailbox last fall with so many direct mail pieces that he became the #1 cause of deforestation in all five boroughs, despite PlaNYC.
I opened the letter from the Senator. I’ve scanned it in above. I think I was most enticed to write about this because I’ve always wanted to redact something. It was damned fun. Now I know why Dick Cheney loves it so much.
I began to read the letter. You’re welcome to do the same as I pick it apart. (I won’t go through every line.)
First of all, it’s dated late January and I received it in late February. Major lag time. Poor form, Gilly and staff. The post office isn’t as fast as email, but it’s also not as slow as a freighter shipping acrylic Banana Republic scarves from China.
Getting into the text, I was not entirely sure what the letter was in regards to. Clearly, it relates to U.S. foreign assistance, something I care about. Nonetheless it does not expressly state what prompted this response.
I deduced that it’s a response to a petition I “click-signed” in association with the ONE Campaign, Bono’s fan club. Oh, I meant to say a non-partisan organization committed to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease like AIDS and malaria in Africa.
Moving on, Gillibrand says she agrees we must “ensure we are using our foreign aid dollars wisely.” I think both Dennis Kucinich and Joe Wilson would agree with that. Then, she refers to her co-sponsoring (along with 23 colleagues) S. 1524 and its proper name, but not what it actually proposes. I looked that up: “A bill to strengthen the capacity, transparency, and accountability of United States foreign assistance programs to effectively adapt and respond to new challenges of the 21st century, and for other purposes.” A bit vague still, even without “other purposes,” the best catch-all phrase I can think of.
Then, the meaty paragraph, where I expected some details, proposals, policy positions, anything. Instead I got no hints, allegations, just things left unsaid. She is “closely following” and “considering” abstract “programs.” In the second sentence she says, “Providing foreign aid to address humanitarian needs, further democracy, and advance U.S. interests abroad is something that will continue to receive support in Congress.” Who’s support? Yours? You can’t even say you stand for that concept?
Halfway down, she goes back to ‘ol S. 1524 which is chugging along slowly in Congress. She writes, “Specifically, it establishes research and development programs with the task of fostering innovative approaches to delivering assistance,” as well as providing transparency and “modernizing” USAID, the chief agency tasked with administering civilian foreign aid. I tend to assume that is what a lot of legislation does. Y’know, approving new laws or approaches.
What does it mean specifically? The devil is in the details! Can I get an example? How much will it cost? What causes will it champion: infrastructure, disease, microfinance? Will it be contracted to existing NGOs and charities on the ground or will USAID handle it all? How about, and this is novel… where is it going: Swaziland or Switzerland? Perhaps, she could have referenced Haiti to illustrate how things would be handled differently if this bill is law when the next natural disaster hits.
Then she plugged herself. And a staffer stamped a signature.
This letter is indicative of the boilerplate “say lots of stuff anodyne in order to say nothing” of politics. Don’t spend the time and money to send me something if you hope I don’t care what it says.
The Senate seat Gillibrand occupies has been a headache since it was vacated by Hillary Clinton (and for some, while it was occupied by our current Secretary of State). The continuingly peculiar Gov. David Paterson dawdled and duped Caroline Kennedy, pointed blindly (pun intended) to another woman who happened to be in the House, Kirsten Gillibrand, pundits called her too conservative of a Democrat for New York, and then some quasi-household names decided to mull challenging her in the primary. (Apologies to the legally blind, I’m feeling particularly snarky today.)
Gillibrand has done her best to synch (a whopping 95% of the time) with Chuck Schumer and brandish her Democratic bona fides since joining the upper house. Has she tacked to the left (including supporting the public option) to placate voters and win reelection? Yes. Does she now believe in some of those changes? Uncertain.
As for her challengers, who have taken advantage of their media roles in an effort to approach serious candidacy, I’m equally unsure.
Although Harold Ford Jr. screwed up the potential media springboard appearances he needed to gain momentum and positive word-of-mouth, just this week he conducted and personally paid for polling against Gillibrand to try and crack the code on how to take her on.
The most recent electoral flirtation, Mort Zuckerman, who I have heard provide not entirely ridiculous commentary on Morning Joe, is not a bad option, but he is well into Medicare eligibility at age 72. He has some ambiguous political comments and some dicey history to tend with as well.
Zuckerman, real estate and media mogul, owns the New York Daily News and is the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report. To his credit, he is not averse to speaking out. Last month he was railing and ragging on the prez to great effect in The Daily Beast.
Over the weekend he said of running for the seat, “I have not spoken about it because I really haven’t thought about it all that much.” Yeah, and Chester the cheetah hasn’t thought about Cheetos lately.
It’s sort of laughable too, that as one of the 150 wealthiest Americans, he is considering running under a different party banner to avoid an expensive primary. A Jew after my own heart.
One consideration working against him is “inside baseball.” Have a younger guy or gal in there and over time that person can accrue influence enough in the body to head important committees. As we saw with Max Baucus in the Finance Committee last year on health care reform, that can turn out to be damn important.
I don’t have a preference for any of these people currently. I would consider voting for a Democrat or a Republican, especially if Zuckerman, a possible “Bloomberg Republican,” throws his tuchus into the ring.
Listen, I don’t know if Ford or Zuckerman would do more, stick their necks out further, or write better letters. And I’m not saying other Senators are writing better letters today. But Sen. Gillibrand, next time, take a risk: say something.