The information age has ushered in the era of the politically absurd. We live in a time when the “Lion of the Senate” kicks the bucket and is replaced by a former nude male model, the “Sheriff of Wall Street” is caught with his socks on and thrown out of office, and our own Tommy “Fix Albany” is politically fixed (as in neutered) only to resurface as a consultant for Cablevision’s MSG Varsity product.
Next to take center stage: David Paterson. Remember when he was days away from stepping down as governor? It seems so many of today’s politicians are incapable of avoiding scandals and are crushed under the tidal wave of popular discontent…but not this guy. Of course, by the time you read this Paterson may have stepped down, but for some peculiar reason he has hung in there thus far.
A pattern has emerged among the controversy-tainted public servant of today. When a scandal breaks said politician is supposed to: Immediately deny; close ranks and hire publicist; exhibit extreme contrition with stoic spouse at side in carefully constructed press conference where nothing is declared but a fervent mea culpa is issued; then immediately thereafter step down while defending your record and promising to spend more time with your family.
But Paterson’s path is, well, different. His course looks more like: Fight; blame; deny; announce re-election bid; scratch said re-election bid; deny a little more; grab lunch in New Jersey with attractive young “supporter”; appoint adversary as special investigator into alleged misconduct; watch inner circle bail; force Lt. Governor to make all the big decisions; stay in race and say nothing. In no particular order. It almost seems like the media and even his colleagues have simply given up trying to oust him from office. Some would call this misguided and ridiculous. I call it “smart-stupid.”
Paterson knows he’s toast. And every day that goes by where he stumbles through governing like Mr. Magoo is another day that Andrew Cuomo can’t announce his candidacy for governor, Kathleen Rice can’t campaign openly for attorney general and so on down the line. Our political contributor Spencer Rumsey does a terrific job in the cover story this week outlining all of the moves that are taking place behind the scenes while everyone sits back wondering what the hell the governor of New York is doing.
The only answer that comes to mind is that Paterson is negotiating the deal of a lifetime. But the fact that he has held onto his position this long must make Eliot Spitzer positively bananas. If only he had thought to approach his scandal with such enthusiastic confusion and bought a little more time to allow voter attention deficit disorder to kick in, he could have appointed Ashley Dupré as the head of economic development, legalized marijuana and declared himself a free love radical.
The fact is, we as a population can’t seem to pay attention to anything for longer than a New York minute, which is now the equivalent of a political lifetime. We switch careers every five years, refuse to sit through television commercials, and can’t wait more than five—no, four—no, three seconds for a website to load.
The short term memory of the public is so short (How short is it?) that if Paterson grew his beard back and switched parties, he could probably beat Lazio and Levy in a primary. Even President Obama is pulling himself out of a hole after passing historic legislation by surprising troops in Afghanistan and turning his attention to nuclear treaties, climate change and peace in the Middle East. These sound more like a little boy’s birthday wishes or bullet points in a Miss America speech than tangible goals. But in the immediate gratification age, it seems as though nothing less than world peace, or one hell of a smart-stupid agenda, will do.