Chuck Schumer — A Man in Full Swing

There used to be a saying that the most dangerous place to stand in Washington was between Chuck Schumer and a television camera. Fair enough. Everyone in town immediately got the joke. Not too many people laughing these days.

A former backbench House member from Flatbush, Brooklyn, Schumer apparently had his eye on a much bigger bench. And through a combination of sheer force of will, energy, smarts, ego and chutzpah, Schumer cultivated a talent for being able to swing at any media pitch that happened to come across the plate.

Across the plate? Hell, just throw the ball anywhere in the park — including the bleachers and concession stands — and Schumer would grab his oversized rhetorical bat, run full speed and take a whack, no matter where the ball happened to be flying.

High inside fastballs. Snaky knee-high curves. Knucklers nose-diving into the dirt. Didn’t really matter much to Schumer. As a House member in the ’80s and ’90s he developed a reputation for saying yes to any media request that would give him an opportunity to get his thoughts out there. And Brudda, did he have a lot of thoughts!

Broadcast television. Cable news. Radio. Hallway gaggles with print reporters, Schumer quickly earned a bust in the National Sound Bite Hall of Fame. The quintessential go-to guy for just about any reporter on deadline who ever needed bottled outrage, shock, witty asides, cleverness, irony. Whatever the story needed, and whatever time of day it was needed, Schumer was always in the on-deck circle and ready to hit.

On speed dial for all the TV bookers and producers in Washington and New York, in 1998 Schumer turned that media savvy and moxie on incumbent Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, whom he defeated handily. And later, with the possibility of being overshadowed by a popular former first lady who won New York’s other Senate seat, Schumer never really missed a beat — or a bat.

Now, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during an Obamavated election cycle that offers few signs of hope for congressional Republicans, Schumer doesn’t have to do much scratching and clawing for TV face-time these days.

He is, after all, responsible for increasing the population of Democrats in the United States Senate — and by the look of things, Senate Democrats are not going to wind up on anyone’s endangered species list anytime soon.

Conservative estimates have Senate Democrats picking up five or six seats come November, and if we are truly in the middle of the “tectonic plate shift” that Schumer is preaching about these days, that number could easily jump to eight or nine faster than you can say “filibuster-proof” — the 60-seat range that could virtually guarantee slam-dunk passage of any legislation that a President Obama might desire, or a similar slam-dunk denial of anything a President McCain might offer up.

Appearing this week at the National Press Club with his Republican campaign counterpart, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, Schumer compared this cycle to the sweeping 1932 and 1980 elections, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan arguably changed the political landscape for their respective parties for generations to come.

“In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt says, ‘Hey, you need a stronger, more active government to get you out of this mess.’ And people respond. They vote for Roosevelt. He does it and creates two generations of Democrats.

“By 1980,” Schumer continued, “Roosevelt had such great success that people are feeling great. They feel they're going to do just fine on their own. And that's what Ronald Reagan comes in and tells them. He says, ‘You don't need this government anymore. It's a burden to you when it's around. Chop it up. Chop it back.’ ”

Ensign, who is pretty sober about GOP Senate prospects this year, admitted, “We're dealing with an unpopular president. We have a financial crisis. We have a country who thinks that not only Republicans hold the White House, but about half the country still think that Republicans are in charge of the House and the Senate.”

Still holding onto his sense of humor in the midst of all the gloom, Ensign added: “There was not a long line of people who wanted this job.”

No matter how bad the news might be on Election Day, however, Ensign insisted that he was still taking his wife to Napa Valley for a vacation: “We'll either be able to celebrate or drown our sorrows,” he joked before adding, “We'll see how that goes.”

Fair enough, Senator. No matter what happens, take the time off. Tough year. You deserve it. Just keep your eyes peeled for any sign of television cameras and another vacationing senator. He’ll have a glass of wine in one hand and huge bat in the other.

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