Carl Paladino: The Mad Hatter of the Tea Party

Does anyone have a cot? Hammock? Jesus, my kingdom for a nap!

It’s a race to the bottom in this year’s mid-term elections and the bubbling cauldron of discontent is spilling into the streets. As the negative campaigning blossoms all around us I cannot help but hum, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” every time I see candidates passing out literature or trading daily insults in my inbox. My unabashed love for political theater during this silly season sucks me obsessively into the fray, allowing me to once again forgive my New York Mets for not playing October baseball.

This season is a doozy. No incumbent is safe and everything is fair game. Hope has turned to hatred and voters are wandering the streets with pitchforks and torches ready to perform their civic duty and pull the lever, er, fill in the bubble for the candidate best able

No one, it seems, is more pissed off than Carl Paladino. This guy eats anger for breakfast and spits nails at babies and old people. He’s “taking out” reporters and “taking a bat” to Albany. Oh yeah, it’s on! Unfortunately, “pissed off” is not a legitimate platform no matter how much it resonates with an intemperate electorate. The only thing worse is manufactured outrage, perfectly displayed (again, but sans wagging finger at Hillary) by former gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, who attempted to hijack the movement against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” You can’t fake anger… You gotta live it.

Yet despite the palpable fury that surrounds so many campaigns and the no-holds-barred negative campaigning now taking place, no candidate has found a way to take it to the next level. Let’s journey into awesomeness and storyboard a Paladino commercial that would really stir things up.

The screen is black. Pitch black. The only sound we hear is a match being lit as we barely make out the silhouette of Carl Paladino touching the flame to the end of a cigarette. As the tip burns and the glow of the match illuminates everything but those (really troubling) black circles beneath his eyes (seriously, this guy really needs a nap), the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the candidate on the steps of the Capitol in Albany.

Suddenly the screaming cries of an electric guitar break the silence as Paladino begins walking down the stairs in slow motion with a baseball bat in one hand, gas can in the other and the cigarette dangling from his scowling lips. He pauses at the bottom step and throws the empty gas can to the ground, wheels around deftly on one foot and points ominously in the direction of the building behind him, like the Babe. In one swift motion Paladino grips his own trademark bat, spits the burning butt from his mouth and swings away like Joaquin Phoenix at the end of that M. Night Shyamalan movie and connects with the cigarette, sending it careening toward the Capitol. As the music hits a crescendo and the camera captures every angle of the shot heard round the state, it pulls in tight on the arc of the cigarette cutting through the dank Albany sky. Cut the music. The cigarette falls to the ground, and the camera captures our dark, mysterious hero as he turns in slow motion, gives the audience a wry smile, and begins walking again.

Boom! Flames shoot high into the sky as the Capitol blows to smithereens, engulfing the city in flames and black smoke, with the soundtrack at full tilt. Through the haze Paladino emerges unscathed with his bat slung over his shoulder, the smile now faded from his countenance. He peers menacingly into the camera as the chorus of guitars strike a final exhausted and dissonant chord and he utters, “Next stop. The White House.” Fade to black.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! If Carl Paladino is going to be the Mad Hatter of this Tea Party, then his collateral marketing should look more like the collateral damage this party is causing.

But this isn’t Wonderland, though it seems we have all lost our heads. Political theater may be fun for political junkies, but this is serious business and these are difficult times that require cooler heads and real answers. Like it or not, our political system is a complex and fragile infrastructure built on the backs of the working class who need to be protected, not riled up. It’s time to leave the Tea Party far down the rabbit hole and wake up from this dream. There’s work to be done.


Jay Jacobs Takes New York … and Probably Wants To Give It Back

New York Democratic Leadership. The blind leading the .... Oh wait.

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs can file this election cycle under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For.” When his ticket was punched to move up the ladder of Democratic leaders in the state before the last election, the world he was leaving behind in Nassau County was fairly stable. Then Tom Suozzi, the horse Jacobs rode in on to become the local leader, was summarily dismissed and the Nassau Democratic machine came to a screeching halt. The rest of the state, as it turned out, wasn’t far behind.

With the Nassau stronghold severely crippled, Jacobs walked into even greater chaos with the state Democrats eating their young and staging leadership coups left and right. He went from managing the follies of Roger Corbin to dealing with scandals involving Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate. Moreover he found himself defending Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment after the Caroline Kennedy debacle and the plummeting numbers of a sitting governor who was never elected.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of a national backlash against sitting Democrats everywhere. Whew. It’s times like these that probably make Jacobs wish he could enroll in one of his own sleep-away camps and disappear for what looks to be a miserable summer.

His biggest challenge will undoubtedly be the gubernatorial race this fall. That is to say that Sen. Chuck Schumer is as much of a lock as any incumbent could be. That is not to say, however, that Republican Bruce Blakeman couldn’t pull off an upset against Gillibrand when no one is looking. And of course that’s also assuming that Harold Ford doesn’t throw the junior Senate seat into a complete circus for the Dems in the primary as well. The only absolute situation is the conundrum that Jacobs finds himself in while tethered to an unpopular incumbent governor who refuses to throw in the towel.

Regardless of your opinion of Gov. David Paterson, it’s fairly clear that the Democratic establishment from President Obama down clearly wishes he would step aside and allow Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to assume the mantel of Democratic candidate for governor. If Paterson stepped down it frees up Jacob’s chess board significantly. Not only would it allow him to run Cuomo for governor and access his vaunted legacy and war chest, but he could then tap into his home town stable and run Kathleen Rice for attorney general. But Cuomo can ill afford to be viewed as the repeat-offender white candidate looking to supplant the favored African-American candidate. He is still smarting from the primary against then-Comptroller Carl McCall, the African-American candidate for governor in 2002.

For his part, Cuomo has opted for complete radio silence, thereby allowing Paterson the space to implode on his own. The problem is that Paterson appears to only be emboldened as support from inside his own party continues to rapidly wane. Given the political lifetime that exists between now and the election in November, the ironic position of the outsider-incumbent could theoretically work in Paterson’s favor. More than ever, the Democratic Party under Jacobs requires a Herculean effort to negotiate a united transitional front in this upcoming election. Yet with every passing day this seems less likely to happen.

Economic conditions in New York State would need to be rebounding heartily coming out of the summer months to quell the voter discontent exhibited this past November and in special elections throughout the country since that time. Voter turnout will be mission critical on both sides, which proved to be a weakness for the Democrats under Jacobs in the last cycle. While no one questions his political acumen and fundraising prowess, the mess that is New York may be entirely too deep for Jacobs to escape unscathed in 2010. Regardless of the political moves Jacobs may want to make this summer to cement his candidate list, Paterson is in control of the board right now. And that means by August we may indeed be peeking under the bunks at Timber Lake Camp to find Jay Jacobs.