The Spectacular Emptiness of Jeff Klein

I hesitate to spend any more time talking about the State Senate reorganization until I’m sure there is actually a contest.  

Right now, Republicans hold thirty seats. Thirty-one democrats have been elected. Two seats are in the midst of recounts, though things look pretty good for Terry Gipson in his race against incumbent Stephen Saland.

One cannot be say the same about Democratic prospects in the newly created Suburban Albany/Hudson Valley based 48th SD, where the lead has been bouncing back and forth between Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Republican George Amedore, with Amedore currently holding the advantage.

Given that Republicans already have a pledge of support from Borough Park DINO Simcha Felder, an Amedore victory would be game, set and match.

Further, I suspect that, even without the so-called “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC),  Dean Skelos may already be holding one or more aces as hole cards.

Who?

Ruben Diaz has already indicated in the past his willingness to sell himself to the highest bidder, and the GOP is also congenial to his social conservatism (though, however socially conservative Diaz’s constituents are, unlike Simcha Felder’s, their votes in general elections indicate they prefer  Democrats who are both socially and economically liberal to Republicans who are neither).

Then there is Malcolm Smith, a moderate Democrat who once served as Party Leader, before similar desertions necessitated his departure.

In the past, Smith had sometimes taken the Republican and Conservative Party ballot lines and endorsed Republican candidates. Back when Smith was first elected Leader, I noted his elevation was the one sure way to ensure he didn't give his vote to the Republicans.   

Already seeing an opportunity to do unto others like they done unto him, Smith is further motivated by a desire to get three GOP county leaders to allow him to run in their primary for Mayor.  

Then there is the incumbent leader, John Sampson, widely seen as heading for the trash heap at 90 miles per hour in a car with no brakes. What could possibly motivate him to allow the Dems to take the Majority with someone else at the wheel?

With one vote possibly being decisive, who knows who else might offer himself up for sale?

Nonetheless, some recent articles and editorials make assertions which compel a response, even if the response will have a shorter expiration date than milk sold by John Catsimidis (the only difference being Catsimidis’ milk will remain on the shelf).

 First there’s an editorial in Crain’s which is notable for grasping a very sophisticated point:

 "State Senate Democrats appear to be blowing their chance to control the upper chamber of the Legislature. While that may be viewed as good news by many in the business community, chaos in the Senate threatens to disrupt the government and erode the public's fragile confidence in Albany....

...It's unhealthy for state government to be viewed so cynically by the public. Voters should expect the candidates they elect to represent the principles of their parties, not become free agents looking for a better deal.

 We're not saying legislators should reflexively vote the party line. But for state government to function, a certain degree of order must be kept in the Legislature. We can't have 63 undisciplined senators dangling their allegiance on eBay whenever the mood strikes. With the chamber so closely divided, we can't afford even one."

 My major quibble here is their assertion: "Mr. Felder's spin was that he's doing what is best for his district, but it looks more like he's putting perks over principle."

In reality, Mr. Felder's desertion of principle did not come when he agreed to caucus as a Republican, but rather, when he agreed to run as a Democrat. In fact, that was more or less the entire basis of the campaign his far right wing Republican opponent ran against him.

It is, however, noted that the voters in his district rejected that argument.

As a Democrat who embraces the occasional heresy, I've no problem with deviations from the party line, but for Felder the deviations are the rare times he lines up ideologically with the Democrats.

In other words, Simcha Felder didn't betray his principles; he finally came home to them.

But the balance of the Crain’s piece argues from the right a point I think I may embrace from the left.

The price of any bidding war may be worse than the price we may pay if the wrong side simply wins without one.

Which brings us to the IDC, which consists of Jeff Klein, his goomah, and his two pet iguanas.     

Much like Dudley LeBlanc making his pitch for Hadacol, Jeff Klein has taken his medicine show on the road, and is selling the IDC as the cure for whatever ails us,  

As a real Centrist-Democrat, let me call bullshit.

Klein:  In January of 2011, in an effort to break the partisan gridlock and stagnation that had made progress in New York impossible, three of my Senate colleagues and I formed the Independent Democratic Conference.

 Gate: If this sounds familiar, there might be a reason.

Back in 2008, four NYS Senate Democrats known as “The Amigos” were saying remarkably similar things.

As I noted back then, for all the smoke and mirrors concerning this being about the need for bipartisanship in a time of crisis, few have pointed out that the bi-partisan nature of the current NYS status quo, which has been a fact of our lives for all but two years since the 1974 elections.

Further, it is that status quo which has usually been directly responsible for much of the Albany phenomena which another Independent Bronx Democrat  named Pedro Espada then called "dysfuctionality and polarization" in much the same manner that Jeff Klein now refers to it as “partisan gridlock and stagnation.”

In fact, one could argue that it is the bi-partisan status quo which led us into the mess Klein (and Espada) complained of.

But, nonetheless, the meaningless rhetoric about the utopia of bi-partisanship continues unabated.

As I noted when predicting the Amigo crisis months before it occurred, efforts like the IDC and the Amigos are not about, in Espada’s words, bringing an end to the "dysfunctionality and polarization," nor are they about, in Klein’s words, “break[ing] the partisan gridlock and stagnation.” Efforts like those of Espada and Klein are about creating “dysfunctionality and polarization”, and “partisan gridlock and stagnation.” and then exploiting them for personal and political gain.

Klein: If challenging the norm has made us renegades, then we are proud to wear that title.

Gate:  I will note that in my lifetime, Democrats have taken a majority in the State Senate three times—in the elections of 1964 (five weeks of deadlock before a Leader was chosen), 2008 and 2012, and in every one of them something like this has occurred. The motto of the NYS Senate Dems is "every rump faction for themselves," The IDC hasn't challenged the norm, they've embodied it.

 Klein: We will fight to raise the minimum wage so that workers can receive a paycheck they can actually live on, while our state’s economy can receive the boost that it so clearly needs

 Gate: Senate GOP Spokesman Scott Reif just recently declared the minimum wage a “Job Killer”

Klein: In order to make this type of progress, a strong, stable government is absolutely necessary. Make no mistake; the IDC is a permanent third conference in the New York state Senate. We are committed to our vision of bipartisan governance that places progress above politicking."

 Gate: Back in 2008, the Amigos’ initial cover story for refusing to support the choice of their Conference concerned "work[ing] together actively to promote a unified vision to support the needs of their diverse communities in the upcoming legislative session," and "working to insure that, in these difficult economic times, state government can function efficiently to protect the concerns of all New Yorkers."

They also promised  to "work together and speak with a strong and cohesive post-partisan voice."

As I noted  "post-partisan" was inexact; what they envisioned was more like a "pre-Hobbesian state of nature" where roving bands of nomads form momentary alliances of convenience, but essentially, it was every caveman for himself. Still, the essential point about getting beyond parties, which are, after-all, semi-coherent groups organized around a commonly held system of belief, seems to have been remarkably accurate.

And, in similar fashion, Jeff Klein and the IDC seem to believe that the way to create “stability” is to create an artificial deadlock, and then put themselves in the middle of it in order to create a vision of buy-the-partisans government, which places politicians over parties.

Klein: For the four of us, bipartisanship is not a matter of political expedience. It is a matter of principle, rooted in the reality of the changing times. It is becoming increasingly clear, both at home and in Washington, that we are at a political tipping point.

Gate: Back in 2008, Amigo PR Strumpet Juda Engelmayer  opined on behalf of his Johns (or do I mean Juans?) "Nationally…we are experiencing, in the face of uncertainty, a unique moment of both hope and opportunity. Now is the time to return to our core values."

And surely, this was a return to the core values of Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada, who in the face of uncertainty, saw their opportunities and took ‘em, much in the manner of George Washington Plunkitt, but without the candor. Nonetheless, one could hardly accuse them of forsaking their core values, which were mostly a matter of "what’s in it for me?"

And that was all in 2008, before the last four years exposed the wishes for a national bi-partisan utopia as  embodied  in movements like “No Labels” and “Americans Elect” and the cheerleading for such in the clueless columns of Tom Friedman, as empty fantasies made up of delusions and wishful thinking.

If Mr. Klein had made his case for “bipartisanship” solely by citing the situation in New York State, one could still suspect his motives, but one would not necessarily feel a motivation to become infuriated.   

In face of the empty calls for “bi-partisanship” once again welling up in the face of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” it seems a good time for a little cold hard reality.   

Let me review:

Over the last four years, the National GOP has displayed a near unanimous inability to ever break ranks for the good of the country, even on issues upon which they agree with the President.

This sometimes stemmed from ideological fanaticism, but mostly owed to a belief that failure of our nation in the short run was for the greater good, if not for their country, then for themselves.

Henry Kissinger used to engage in plateau bargaining, the art of having someone agree to your terms and then asking for more; today’s national Republicans abhor plateau bargaining--the last thing they want is agreement.

President Obama put forth a health plan combining features originally proposed by Bob Dole and Mitt Romney; he put forth a carbon restriction bill based totally on market-oriented Republican principles; he cut taxes; he appointed a bi-partisan deficit reduction commission which put forth a plan less palatable to Democrats than Republicans, and reintroduced it in modified form during the debt ceiling imbroglio; he adopted George W. Bush‘s bank bailout, auto industry bailout and immigration reform plans. He did not precipitously withdraw troops anywhere we have them, and actually expanded some.

No president in decades reached out more than Barack Obama, and for his troubles he was branded as a foreign socialist Muslim.

When the GOP brought our country to a real “fiscal cliff,” by taking the unprecedented step of holding up an increase in the debt ceiling, they refused a compromise which was a capitulation, gambling that putting off everything until after the election would bring them a total victory.

Now, having been nationally repudiated, and hoisted by their own petard, they respond to the non-fiscal cliff of tax cuts expiring and defense cuts being implemented by gracefully agreeing to accept the capitulation they previously rejected as a basis for the start of negotiations.

And this is what is now being defined by the mongers of conventional wisdom as “bipartisanship.”

There is some “give and take,” but Democrats are being asked to do all the giving while the GOP does all the taking.  

It reminds me of the time Jersey set up a Special Commission about the state of the Hudson, and one of its members, the late Ray Garramone, showed up at the first meeting and asked “How you gonna clean half a River?”

Given recent history, the amount of conventional wisdom arguing for the consensus that “bi-partisanship is peachy” is absolutely shocking.

Bi-partisanship in its best manifestations, like passage of the Civil Rights Acts, was not about the means, it was about the ends.

The idea that bi-partisanship is an end itself is, in large measure, misguided.

In most of its manifestations, most of the time, bi-partisan cooperation is a fee-splitting arrangement, with more in common with the operations of the NYC Board of Election than those of The Kean Commission.

The current apportionment of New York’s State Legislative districts is a splendid example of what bi-partisanship looks like most of the time. It is when each party agrees to turn a blind eye to the most egregious actions of the other that the worst evils are generally allowed to take place.

Our justice system, whatever its flaws, is fair, to the extent that it is, because adversarial processes bring out the truth better than handshakes.

As has been proven time and again, national Republicans don’t care about healing our wounds, or are too cowed by their base to admit that they do.

What those infatuated by bi-partisanship do not seem to grasp is that, far from being a Quaker meeting based upon consensus, democracy itself is about the creating a safe forum for fighting out our society’s conflicts. It is about conflict at its very core, and has always been ugly.

In fact, even the good kind of bi-partisanship has often been ugly; the Civil Rights Acts did not pass without their share of sleazy side deals. Bi-partisanship does not imply a specific political content; it can be — and has been — a means to both greatness and depravity, and sometimes even both at once. It can simply be a more effective way of getting business done, but sometimes it can’t.

The truth is that there can't be change in how we resolve our political conflicts without more conflict.

But, in the service of his own personal agenda, Jeff Klein has the nerve to say “bipartisanship is not a matter of political expedience. It is a matter of principle, rooted in the reality of the changing times. It is becoming increasingly clear, both at home and in Washington, that we are at a political tipping point.

We surely are at a political tipping point nationally, but any Democrat who cites it in the context of advocating “bipartisanship” as a means of advancing a “progressive” agenda is either a fool or a charlatan.

However, the reality of these “changing times” is actually that bipartisanship is becoming less and less useful, as a means for accomplishing any goal. In Washington, bi-partisanship is most analogous to negotiating with terrorists. In fact, by citing Washington, Klein tips his hand that his vaunted principle is nothing but an empty rhetorical device.

But New York is not Washington; in New York, bi-partisanship is neither futile or solely a means to the end of accomplishing useful goals. In NYS, bi-partisanship is quite often a means to facilitate corruption and greed.

The Amigos were an example of bi-partisanship The IDC seems quite clearly in that tradition.

The truth is that real bi-partisanship in the good government sense would be if both parties rejected the likes of the Amigos and the IDC and negotiated a power sharing agreement that left them out in the cold

enate threatens to disrupt the government and erode the public's fragile confidence in Albany....

enate threatens to disrupt the government and erode the public's fragile confidence in Albany....