Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Paterson on the Griddlelock

With the so called special legislative session degenerating into a middle school food fight-and polling indicating a total collapse in support for the state's legislators-it is David Paterson, and he alone, who will reap this particular whirlwind. Why, because no one knows any of the other players in this tragicomedy-aside from their own senator who, of course, they think should be re-elected: "But voters say 48 - 27 percent that their state senator deserves to be reelected in 2010. Democrats back their individual state senator 56 - 19 percent, while Republicans are less supportive, 41 - 36 percent. Independent voters back their incumbent 47 - 31 percent."

So it's left to the governor to bear the brunt of the public scorn-and his role is far from that of simple scapegoat. In the run up to this farce, Paterson has so diminished his own stature that he reminds us of the hapless substitute teacher, trying in vain to quiet an unruly group of eighth graders. The need for an intervention from the principal became more compelling yesterday as the children literally began to climb the walls-escalating the name calling to another level.

As the NY Daily News reports-with a "Girls Gone Wild"-style headline: "How low will they go? The Capitol's dysfunction sunk to amazing new depths Tuesday as warring senators held dueling sessions in the same room at the same time - and accomplished absolutely nothing. Gov. Paterson's effort to break the leadership stalemate with a special Senate session only furthered the confusion when Democrats accused the governor of not sending legislation on time. "Keystone comedy," said Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn)."

The NY Times underscores the sophomoric theme: "The two sides, like feuding junior high schoolers refusing to acknowledge each other, began holding separate legislative sessions at the same time. Side by side, the parties, each asserting that it rightfully controls the Senate, talked and sometimes shouted over one another, gaveling through votes that are certain to be disputed. There were two Senate presidents, two gavels, two sets of bills being voted on."

In most major controversies, the press lists all of the winners and losers; but in the legislative stalemate, as Bill Hammond points out, there are only losers: "Instead of doing the people's urgent business, the senators staged the political equivalent of a professional wrestling match - only a lot less dignified. They bellowed, they pointed fingers, they turned their backs on one another, they stalked out of the ring and took a bunch of phony votes that decided nothing."

Hammond does make one exception in his losers gallery: "But it's the senators who bear the ultimate blame, because they could not put aside their political infighting long enough to pass a few noncontroversial measures necessary to keep the state running. Instead, they birthed a legal mess that just might tie up the courts for years. Come to think of it, there were winners yesterday. The lawyers."

He did leave out, however, the real winner in all this; the stealth governor-in-waiting: Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo is just waiting to pick up the pieces when the mess is finally resolved-even if only on an interim basis. Maybe he is the principal that this school for scoundrels really needs.