Paterson's Racism Charge: Will History Absolve Him?

At first glance it seems crazy for Governor Paterson to complain that he (and Massachusetts Governor Derval Patrick and, for good measure, President Obama), are suffering in the polls because they're black. First, extreme whiteness has not done Arnold Schwarzenegger's poll numbers much good because, like Paterson, he is governor of a hellacious mess of a state. Second, even if racism is a factor in the way black officials are judged, it is extremely counterproductive to blame the voters whom you wish to return you to office of racism.

But we suspect Paterson's motivation is not political but historical. In fact we suspect Paterson expects to lose, either in the Democratic primary or in the general election....

We are reminded of his quixotic push for a gay marriage bill in the state legislature, despite its bleak prospects. "Why can't a bill just be on the floor and lose?" he said then. We originally wondered if Paterson had something up his sleeve. In light of his recent statement, we now think he was expecting the bill to lose, too -- and for people to look back from some more enlightened future and say, David Paterson was one of the heroes of gay marriage, notwithstanding his defeat. (Since it never came up for a senate vote, but has brought all manner of wrath upon him, that's still how it would stand.)

Paterson entered politics -- the family business -- at a young age, and though minority leader, to which he rose, was a real job, it was also a little-noticed one out in the wide world. Some people were surprised when Spitzer picked him for Lieutenant Governor, but it may be that Paterson in his heart of hearts saw it as an exit from politics, not a stepping stone, and expected a quiet tenure and early retirement. He was hoisted by fate into his current position, and his hamhanded governance suggests not only that he is ill-suited to the job, but also sorry he got it.

When this phase of history is over, he might prefer to be remembered for the nobility of his aspirations and the dark forces that worked against him than for his actual achievements, such as they are. He may also believe that racism and homophobia will then be even less well-regarded than they are now, and that it will be remembered that he took a stand against them -- that is, as a martyr rather than as an incompetent.


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