Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On Carpetbaggerism

So the talk is there is going to be a race for the Democratic nomination for the New York Senate seat between a white woman and a black man. I don’t know if the first time this happened, in recent years, it was a tragedy, but the second time is definitely a farce. Kirsten Gillibrand has been a relatively anonymous figure for her year in the US Senate. I am not sure if I could recognize her face or voice. She has moved from a moderately centrist Democratic politics to moderately liberal. Good for her, but I can’t say that I have strong feelings about her candidacy, either way. Harold Ford Jr was understandably a moderately conservative Democrat when he was running for the US Senate from Tennessee. But the same politics makes him far too conservative for New York State. He is beginning to move to the center, but basically New York State is one of the most liberal states in the country, and if it is not represented by a true liberal, it is a great opportunity wasted.

But the real question about Ford, who has lived in New York State for only three years, is why does New York State attract carpetbaggers so frequently, from Robert Kennedy to Hillary Clinton? First let me say that a carpetbagger is an honorable calling, and goes back to a time when southern politics desperately needed the assistance of outsiders, and the tragedy was that they didn’t stay longer and accomplish more. Carpetbaggers respond to a need, and the need that New York State Democrats have is that over the past few decades they have done a spectacularly poor job in producing likely candidates for top positions. The whole controversy over Gillibrand and Caroline Kennedy was a reflection of the lack of obvious candidates for the senate position. The basic problem is that NYS’s dysfunctional politics has produced few viable candidates for higher office. One can look at the difficulties that both Elliot Spitzer (leaving his assignations aside) and David Paterson have had in being effective governors, where the basic problem seems to be that Democrats in the legislature, secure in their seats, have no reason to come to the aid of their party’s governor. And for reasons I will let those who follow NYC politics more closely explain, Democrats have had relatively weak candidates for mayor of NYC for several cycles. So as a result, the candidates for statewide office often emerge from congress, and they are by definition not well known around the state, and most of them, lacking statewide reputations, seem too small for the task of representing or running something as big and complex as NYS. So it seems to me that if NYers wants to prevent more carpetbaggers descending on their elections, they need to start by creating a state politics which works, and which can produce politicians of which they can be proud.

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