Friday, February 27, 2009

Post-Hillary New York

I've noticed two articles this week on the continuing political implications in New York of Hillary Clinton's move from the Senate to the State Department.

When Governor David Paterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Clinton, that necessitated a special election in the congressional district that Gillibrand had represented since 2007. Here is a Washington Post article about that campaign.

The district had been represented by Republicans for many years, before the Democratic landslide of 2006. Therefore, there is a chance for something that has been rare in recent years: a Republican gain. However, the Post report notes that President Obama is still pretty much in his honeymoon stage, and that Obama carried the district last November. Therefore, Democrats are making a push to lock in their gain in that district.

Meanwhile, The New York Times published an article about Gillibrand, as she takes up her Senate duties, and runs for election to a full term. That piece mainly addresses her long-windedness. I agree with Ross Goldberg's conclusion that that does not preclude political success. Most Americans in this day and age will think of the name he mentions in that regard, Bill Clinton. But those of us who are from my native state of Minnesota, and who have long memories, will think instead of Hubert Humphrey.

But what mainly caught my eye in Goldberg's article was his reference to Gillibrand's "newfound zest for gun control and a moratorium on immigration raids". When Paterson appointed her, Gillibrand's relatively conservative record in the House was controversial. Now, she appears to be acting as politicians typically do, and conforming more closely to the majority views of her new, broader, constituency.

Another example of that phenomenon became an issue in the presidential campaign of 2000, when Al Gore was criticized for having moved steadily to the left as he went from representing a conservative Tennessee congressional district, to representing that state as a whole in the Senate, to running for national office.

Barack Obama went in the other direction, when he quickly shifted from representing a left-wing state Senate district in Chicago, to becoming president of the United States.

In my opinion, criticism of politicians for this, shall we say, fluidity, is valid only up to a point. They must strike a delicate balance between, on the one hand, doing what they think is right and, on the other hand, representing the opinions of their constituents. Going too far in the former direction is undemocratic, while too much of the latter constitutes a lack of leadership.

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