Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NYT Publishes White House "Talking Points" Justifying Paterson Move

The New York Times has published an article that seeks to justify and contextualize President Obama's request that New York Governor David Paterson not seek election in 2010. The article, written by Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney, portrays Obama's move in New York as part of a national strategy of deep White House involvement in local political contests:
The president’s top strategists have recruited candidates — and nudged others to step aside — in races in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. They said they intended to continue this practice heading into the 2010 midterm elections, as well as with an eye to the redistricting fights that will go on within states early in the next decade.
The article also suggests that Rahm Emanuel orchestrated this strategy: "The intense involvement reflects the tactics and style of the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. . . ."

Two Major Distinctions: Paterson Is An Incumbent; Paterson Defied Obama on Senate Appointment
The article seeks to draw parallels between Paterson's treatment and the White House endorsement of candidates in other contests. Two major distinctions, however, are Paterson's status as an incumbent and his failure to abide by Obama's "request" that he appoint Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat.

Publicly instructing an incumbent not to run is an extraordinary tactic. Yesterday, former New York Governor George Pataki criticized the decision as dangerously weakening Paterson and thus threatening the state. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, quoted in the New York Times article, makes a similar assertion:
The president is the head of the party, and he has a right to express his opinion . . . . The only thing I would have done differently is not let it become known. This can’t be helpful to the governor.
The article fails to discuss Paterson's refusal to appoint Kennedy to the Senate. This fact, however, also distinguishes the Paterson case from the ordinary situation where a president chooses to get involved in local races. It looks more like a political "payback," rather than a legitimate political move. The fact that Obama has not acted the same way towards other embattled candidates (like Jon Corzine and Deval Patrick) undermines the involved leader narrative that the White House has evidently floated.

The Bottom Line: I have no problem with presidents trying to influence local politics behind the scenes. But even Obama's supporters should admit that this public display does not represent the "graceful" politics that he promised. Instead, it looks very messy.

Telling an incumbent to drop out of a race matters. Telling a person to drop out after he declined to deliver a huge political favor also matters. And if having "diversity" in public life matters -- as many of Obama's supporters zealously advocated in 2008 -- then telling only the fourth black governor in the nation's history to step aside matters. Saying this does not mean that Paterson must get elected or that Obama or others cannot oppose him. Instead, it means that his race is not a neutral category. Supporting Obama should not require liberals to abandon their so-called principles.


Related articles:

Republicans Making Better Arguments Regarding Obama and Paterson

Obama Is Pathetically WRONG: Paterson Should Run!

3 comments:

Kansas City said...

How come these blog posts and democrats in general never discuss the issue of whether Patterson is a capable governor? Shouldn't that be the relevant question?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

KC: I assume that voters -- not Obama -- can determine whether they want Paterson to run. NY has a primary system -- not a "big boss" system. In Bush v Gore, the question was process - not whether Bush was a lunatic who would lead us into two unnecessary wars. This issue is about process too. Voters get to decide quality.

liberal dissent said...

The White House would be better suited helping Paterson defeat Giuliani than trying to find someone who they think might stand a better chance. Giuliani is a pretty repulsive character who is beatable if they're just willing to hammer him on his (many) weak spots.

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