12 November 2010

New York State of Mind: Presidential Fantasies of 2012

No New Yorker has headed a major party presidential ticket since Thomas Dewey lost for the second election in a row in 1948. Governors of the Empire State are still considered presidential papabili, however. Nelson Rockefeller tried twice for the Republican nomination, while Democrats practically begged Mario Cuomo, in vain, to run for President. The mayor of New York City is also considered presidential timber if he keeps a high enough profile, though Rudolph Giuliani proved a profound disappointment as an actual aspirant for the nomination. Now, in the aftermath of the 2010 midterms, three New Yorkers have been touted as possible Presidents. There's one each for Republicans, Democrats and independents.

On the GOP side, George Pataki has looked promising ever since he toppled Mario Cuomo in the Republican wave of 1994. A Republican who can win New York is assumed to have national appeal, and though Pataki has been out of public life since 2007, after serving three terms as governor, he's still considered capable of making a run for the Republican presidential nomination, and the man himself has said recently that he won't rule out an attempt.

For the Democrats, the hero of the moment is Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, Mario's son, who bucked the Republican wave of 2010 by crushing his tea-boosted Republican opponent. Andrew has national executive experience as the head of HUD during the Clinton Administration, as well as the glamour of having once been married to a Kennedy. Talk of his presidential ambitions began almost immediately after his victory, though it's not clear when commentators expect him to try.

Perhaps the most likely New Yorker to try for the White House, according to recent speculation, is Mayor Michael Bloomberg of the big city, a Republican-turned independent whose most important asset is his assets. A recent speculative article in New York magazine raised the possibility that Bloomberg, now serving his third term as mayor, could spend at least $1,000,000,000 of his personal fortune on an independent presidential campaign.

Not one of these men has a chance in my opinion. Pataki is old news at home and was never the sort of Republican who could hope to go national. That's more true than ever in today's tea-swamped GOP, with many hardcore reactionaries likely to echo the opinion (later recanted) of Carl Paladino, Andrew Cuomo's Republican opponent this year, that Pataki is a "degenerate." Reactionaries in New York itself barely acknowledge Pataki as a "real" Republican, and outsiders are bound to be even more skeptical. As for Cuomo, beating a dysfunctional, largely self-financed Republican in a state as blue as New York is hardly proof that he can take on the national Tea Party movement and whichever candidate it favors. Worse, Cuomo, as the former HUD secretary, is a key figure in the reactionary conspiracy theory of the recent economic collapse, since he is considered complicit in the allegedly coerced sale of mortgages to improvident poor folk -- the necessary and sufficient cause of the housing bubble and its bursting as far as Republicans are concerned. Finally, Bloomberg is a profoundly problematic figure for independents nationwide to rally around. His independence is based almost entirely on his wealth, and it comes with an authoritarian streak. Bloomberg bulldozed the city legislature into abolishing mayoral term limits so he could run and win a third time, something not even the infamously authoritarian Giuliani did. That suggests both that Bloomberg sees himself as the sort of indispensable man that American politics prefers to do without, and that he hasn't managed to build a movement to assure continuity with his policies after he moves on. Bloomberg will be further handicapped as a national candidate by his reputation as a regulatory busybody on such matters as the fat in the food we eat. That impulse clearly goes against the anti-"elitist" mood of the moment, since it makes the mayor almost the archetype of the self-appointed know-it-all who presumes to tell us how to live.

New York remains the financial and cultural center of the country, but its leaders no longer enjoy automatic prestige in the rest of the country. Like California at the other end of the continent, New York is thought by many to be isolated if not deliberately aloof from "mainstream" or "flyover" America. There's always been some resentment of New York among Americans, whether they saw it as the capital of capitalism or a ghetto of decadence. I'm not sure whether that phobia is stronger now than ever, but I suspect that it's strong enough to disqualify anyone but the most miraculously successful reactionary (and there were no miracles for Paladino) from occupying the White House anytime soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but I find it amazing that Paladino would have the gumption to accuse anyone of being a degenerate, considering the dirty little secrets that were revealed about him during the past campaign.