This picture shows President Obama showing the way to New York Gov. David Paterson -- right toward the exit. In a story that's been making big news over the weekend, it's reported that the president himself is telling Paterson not to run for a full term next year. Paterson is telling the White House to take a hike. It's a big mess.
Politically, and cynically, the move makes a certain amount of sense. Paterson's elevation to the governor's job in New York was accidental, but he's ben the political equivalent of a train wreck ever since. It wasn't Paterson's fault that he ascended at the start of the most severe downturn in New York since the Great Depression, but most of what has happened since -- a bumbling goverrnmental response to the crisis, a circus-like revolt among Albany Democrats, embarassing disclosures about Paterson and the occasional inflamatory comment -- is indeed totally his fault.
His disapproval rating is nearly higher than Drew Brees' QB rating was this afternoon, and if he does run in 2010, the GOP will almost surely regain the governor's mansion, possibly with Rudy Giuliani as nominee -- regardless of whether the Dems renominate Paterson or if someone else emerges from a divided primary.From Obama's inside-the-Beltway viewpoint, several Democratic members of Congress could go down with the ship. And that would kill hopes of any kind of progressive (or more accurately, center-progressive) legislation getting through D.C.'s toxic atmosphere in 2011 or 2012.
So if you support that type of thing -- climate change legislation, or immigration reform -- then the ends justify the means, right? But it's not just New York. In just a matter of months, the Obama administration has intervened in a number of primaries or potential primaries in statewide races -- also in New York in seeking to prevent a primary challenge to newly minted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and also here in Pennsylvania. Just last week, Obama raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for political convert Sen. Arlen Specter, even as Specter faces a lively challenge from another Democrat. Rep. Joe Sestak. In this case, Specter not only switched parties but became an enthusiastic for healthcare reform, including a public option that would compete with private insurers and lower costs. So that end surely justifies the means, no?
For one thing, democracy is not a means but an end that our political leaders need to seek -- a critical end, more important in the long run than any individual piece of legislation. Team Obama's heavy-handed intervention in these races smacks of the worst kind of anti-democratic bossism. And because it doesn't look good, it also does more harm to his agenda in the long run than securing Specter's one vote on healthcare (which he might have voted for, anyway -- remember the stimulus?). In New York, the Paterson situation might have resolved itself on its own -- without Obama working to deprive Democratic voters of a choice.
You would think that Obama and his aides, of all people, would be sensitive to the idea of letting voters decide in a primary. Because if the Democratic powers-that-were had been calling all the shots in 2007 and 2008, there would be a junior senator from Illinois who'd be wondering right about now if President Hillary Clinton would be helping his uphill re-election campaign.