By Alan S. Chartock
In politics, there is an old saying: “First you have to win.” A corollary is “Winning is everything.” Another companion idiom in American politics is “There are no co-winners.”
I was speaking with someone the other day who said that in the American presidency, Democrats get the chance to be either Jimmy Carter, a man with integrity who lost, or Bill Clinton, who was all about winning. With that in mind, let’s take a look at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and just a few of its implications for New York State and its voters.
A lot of people voted for Obama when he said, “Yes we can!” They thought he meant, “Yes we can [fill in the blank].” Many of them were disappointed when he showed that he’d rather be a Clinton winner than a Carter loser; he had the center left, and they weren’t going anywhere. He needed to win the folks in the middle and those who held the purse strings in the skewed economic system in which we live.
You need money to win. You can call these people the 1 Percenters. If you are not taking from their pot, they might actually let you live. There were many folks who wanted to punish the bankers whose antics left so many people with homes that were underwater, but many of those in key economic positions around Obama were way too close to the bad guys in the great American economic disaster.
If you examine the State of the Union message, you can see two Obamas.
One is the progressive president. He tells the college-aged that he is with them when it comes to how much their education is costing them and their families. This is the group of people who helped put Obama over the top in the last election and he needs them back. He needs their passion. By telling young people that the federal government will punish states and colleges that raise tuition, he re-energizes those kids to get out and vote and work for him.
On the other hand, in New York, State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, a ball of fire, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo came together with the Legislature in an agreement to save SUNY in this very tough economic climate. In order to do that, the University, which has always been a relative bargain, is raising tuition.
My bet is that the folks who fashioned that deal cannot be happy with what they heard from the president. To some degree, I imagine they thought they were being punched in the solar plexus.
They weren’t the only ones. There was the proposal by Obama that we move ahead with hydrofracking, a drilling process that employs dangerous chemicals to extract natural gas from shale. Here in New York, there has been so much passion appropriately raised about hydrofracking that Cuomo, thought by some to have been in favor of it, seems to have cooled on the idea. No matter how much politicians want the revenue and energy that hydrofracking might provide, they can’t seem to convince the people to accept a process that threatens to poison our drinking water.
So here we have just two of the many things that the president spoke about that may be good for his politics but not necessarily good for the people of New York State. Let’s face it: The president knows what he has to do to win. Under no circumstances will he lose New York State. He will get these electoral votes, so he doesn’t have to worry about New York the way he might about Florida or Ohio. It’s sort of like a wife who will always be there as opposed to a fickle mistress. Get the analogy?
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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