Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

The “Bombshell” about David Paterson

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So count me as unimpressed by this long awaited bombshell about our governor David Paterson from the New York Times.

There have been rumors for weeks that the Times was planning some big exposé, and supposedly it was going to be some Spitzer-esque sexual scandal that was going to bring down Paterson.

Instead, the article is an attack on the personal life of one his aides, not Paterson himself. Now the guy definitely sounds like a bit of a creep. He’s been accused by ex-lovers (but never charged) with domestic abuse. And when he was a teenager he was arrested for dealing cocaine. I’m not that concerned with the drug stuff, though the domestic violence stuff is bad. But he has never been charged, much less proven guilty, and there is conflicting evidence about whether he did anything violent or was simply in a heated argument.

Is it supposed to reflect poorly on Paterson that he hired someone like this? If so, I don’t buy it. Was Paterson supposed to fire him because of unsubstantiated rumors? Because the aide did dumb, but nonviolent, shit when he was 16? And if its just an attack on the aide, it seems insanely disproportionate for the paper of note, with tens of millions of readers, to dedicate a lengthy front page article to unproven allegations about someone whom no one has ever heard of.

It’s absurd enough that we judge a politician’s private life so closely, but are the private lives of their aides fair game now? Policy should matter, not what one of their hundreds of aides does on the weekend. And as the Times admits, Paterson, in his role as policy maker, has been strongly supportive of programs aimed at curbing domestic violence.

It’s also hard not to see an undercurrent of racial politics at play here as well. Johnson, the aide, is not only black, but the Times makes a point of describing in detail his bulky build. It sure seems like the Times (and/or their sources in Albany) do not think a big black man, who came out of poverty, and once made some mistakes dealing drugs, should be in a position of power. The whole article stinks with the vibe that Johnson’s real crime is stepping out of his place.

None of this is meant to downplay domestic violence which is obviously very serious. But so are poverty and torture and corruption and war and a million other things that elites are responsible for. The world would be better off if the Times spent all that time investigating some of those things rather then the unproven allegations against a minor figure who makes up the governor’s schedule.

Worse, this stuff fuels the intense personalization of American politics, where we’re all encouraged to think about candidates in terms of their own personal characteristics and virtues. You know, as in “people want to have a beer with George Bush”, “John McCain is a maverick.” In the process, of course, we ignore the deeper political issues that they stand for, and social groups on whose behalf they will rule, turning serious debates about who will rule society into popularity contests between the well-managed public relation teams of elite politicians.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

February 17, 2010 at 00:47

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