Tommyrot: Tom Suozzi Does the Holy Sacrament of Extreme Disf-Unction (The Mournful Coda in a Two Act Tragedy)
Eliot Spitzer has pulled off a neat trick. In a party seemingly more and more driven by its most ideological activists, he has been embraced wholeheartedly by the party’s left wing, even though all evidence indicates he’s a Bill Clinton type, neo-liberal, new Democrat. Part of this success stems from the perception that his primary opponent, Tom Suozzi, is consistently to his right on social issues.
But is it really so?
To the extent that the positions of the candidates would result in substantive differences in public policy as actually implemented, the answers range from “not very true” to “almost exactly the opposite is actually the case”. But, put on the defensive, Suozzi was unwilling or unable to convey the truth to the party base, especially the liberals most likely to respond to his message of “reform”. Having been seen as failing to pass the litmus tests required for admission to consideration, Suozzi’s campaign was doomed from the start. Since the ability to communicate one’s agenda (or, when necessary, to obscure it) is a political skill of considerable value to a Governor, perhaps this alone justifies the drubbing Suozzi is about to suffer.
Nonetheless, while doing an autopsy upon a patient who, though in extremis, is still technically alive, violates the ethics of the medical profession, it is the pundit’s stock in trade. Herewith, a point by point analysis of the truth, should anyone actually care (a doubtful supposition at best).
Take abortions rights. Suozzi is pro-choice and does not advocate changing the state’s policy of paying for Medicaid abortions; he also does not support parental notification. While he does differ with Spitzer on late term abortions, the bottom line on this issue seems likely to be settled in Congress or the federal courts, and even if it ultimately falls to the legislature, there’s as much chance of it coming to a vote in the Assembly as there is of David Yassky being the best man at Geoffrey Davis’s wedding. Suozzi, who actually appears to take seriously the old Clinton line about making abortion “safe legal and rare”, has recently implemented a plan in Nassau County to accomplish such a goal, which has the support of both Planned Parenthood and the local Catholic diocese, but has drawn the heat of pro-choice forces elsewhere (see www.r8ny.com/blog/gatemouth/safe_legal_and_rare.html).
But the fact that Suozzi apparently believes that the right to have an abortion is meaningless to a woman who wants to keep a child but cannot find the resources which would allow her to do so, and is serious about offering single women a full set of reproductive options which might actually include reproduction, does not, by itself, render him a conservative. In the old days we called politicians who supported such programs “bleeding heart liberals”. Bottom line, on this issue, Spitzer is, in practical effect, only about an inch to the left of Suozzi socially; but given Suozzi’s willingness to publicly support what is, in essence, an entitlement program for pregnant women, Spitzer may actually be to the right on the economics.
Then there is gay marriage. Spitzer supports it; Suozzi supports it in all but name, favoring a Vermont type civil union, which encompasses all the rights of marriage. In my heart, I’m with Spitzer on this one. But, while I personally favor marriage over civil union, the important thing is to take the necessary steps to ensure the interests of thousands of gay families who suffer every day by being denied such rights. As such, if calling it civil union would better ensure the passage of such legislation, then I say pass it now for the substance, and worry later about what we call it. I note this may work better than one might think. Last year, the Brooklyn Republicans, a group not known for social liberalism, could not pass a platform plank on gay marriage because no faction could muster a majority; but, a majority of them favored either marital equity or civil union.
I should also note that Suozzi’s position may have a better chance of becoming law. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is an Orthodox Jew, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is socially conservative, albeit pragmatic. However, I have to acknowledge that Suozzi’s rationale for his position is from hunger. He calls marriage a sacrament; but, the state does not give out sacraments; religions do. In the secular realm (the only realm a Governor deals with in his public capacity), marriage is like property, a bundle of rights (and concomitant responsibilities). State sanctioned gay marriage does not impede anyone’s religious freedom. Those religions which have no theological problem with it already perform gay weddings which, at the present time, are perhaps sanctified in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of the law; if the law changes, those religions which do have a problem with gay marriage will continue to have the First Amendment right to not perform rituals they do not embrace. Orthodox Jews don’t do baptisms; Catholics don’t do brit melah; neither will be forced by the law into performing gay weddings. On this issue, Suozzi gets a C- on rhetoric, but in substance, his position is only about an inch to the right of Spitzer’s, and when push comes to shove, Spitzer may eventually conclude civil unions are the practical solution when compared to no change in the law at all.
But if the difference between gay marriage and civil union is merely one of semantics (like Mo Udall’s old joke about the difference between adultery and fornication; “I’ve tried both and they feel exactly the same to me”); the difference between life and death is awesome. Spitzer supports the death penalty, Suozzi opposes it. Now, while I don't regard executions are immoral (some folks really don't deserve to live), I oppose the capital punishment because the criminal justice system is capable of ghastly injustices, and death is, under science as we know it in 2006, irreversible. Spitzer is not merely pro-capital punishment; in his 1994 primary race for AG, he practically ran as a virtual reality version of the Angel of Death, complete with pro-execution push-polling (a Spitzer phone bank would ask a voter if they favored capital punishment; if they said yes, the caller would then explain that Spitzer’s three opponents opposed the death penalty, while only Spitzer favored it). These days Spitzer is as silent on the topic as he can get away with, in deference to his carefully cultivated effort to portray himself as a progressive, rather than the DLC Democrat he really is (not that I'm complaining), and also in deference to his usual policy of not rocking the Albany boat.
In fairness, I’m not sure that it matters all that much. Shelly Silver may be rhetorically pro-death penalty, but even if this is his actual opinion, as with some of his other personal beliefs, he's learned to keep it to himself; he'll trot out the death penalty on Grand Street when necessary (less and less over the years), then put it away until it's needed again. Since his conference is divided on the substance, but united upon not wanting to take it to an actual vote (many who would vote their conscience don't want to have to do so, and many others who'd vote against their conscience are even more adamant that they don't get the chance) I guess we should be thankful. The death penalty will not come to a vote in the Assembly (every once in a while a bad system like the "Albany Iron Triangle" produces the proper result, but this should not be taken as any sort of defense of the system, just an incidental and accidental benefit, like a dung heap producing methane.) Thus, on this issue, in actual substance, Spitzer is about an inch to the right of Suozzi, although Suozzi is miles better on the rhetoric.
But not every difference on substance will result in a meaningless difference on results. Medical marijuana is popular with the public (many of whom even prefer its traditional use) and may very well pass the legislature. However, it’s unlikely to pass with a veto-proof majority. On this issue, Spitzer, who opposes any type of legalization, is, both rhetorically and substantively, to the right of Suozzi by a country mile.
And so it goes; Spitzer’s campaign attacks Suozzi for employing a neo-con policy wonk; something I’d also be allergic to, if he weren’t just a token on a far more broad-based team. And, just to put things in perspective, it wasn’t so long ago that Spitzer founded and funded his own neo-con think tank, in partnership with his Republican pal, Dennis Saffran (who later ran against Tony Avella for Council).
Likewise the Spitzer campaign attacks Suozzi for courting social reactionary State Senator Ruben Diaz, but if anyone should have to answer to the charge of sucking up to Diaz, shouldn’t it be the person whose office had the goods on his poverty empire for criminal misconduct and decided to punt. That person would be Mr. Spitzer. And I’ll gladly trade Suozzi’s Diaz suck-up even up for Spitzer’s endorsement by social reactionary Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
And, which of these guys has felt motivated enough to vote Republican (I’m betting Giuliani)? Hint: his name ain’t Suozzi.
While Spitzer may sing a more liberal tune these days on most, but certainly not all, issues, Suozzi was much quicker in indicating a desire to comply with the CFE ruling. Spitzer also came out against the restoration of the Commuter Tax, effectively pre-empting the use of the issue by Suozzi in his potential suburban base; this didn't hurt Spitzer in the City because no one else running for Governor had a different stance. In the end, both these guys have little claim to being left of their party's center, which is just fine with me. Did anyone notice their answers on the war? And, BTW, can anyone tell me why I should care what the Governor thinks about the war?
Verdict: Suozzi; tested for social conservatism; found disease free; still DOA.