Paterson under the bus

What do President Obama and David Paterson have in common? Both were forcefully urged to drop their bid for office to make way for another candidate.
Interestingly and hypocritically, Obama has been on both sides of this particular sword. Obama refused to drop out of a State Assembly race and Paterson — at least so far — is balking at the president’s insistence he drop his bid for election for governor of New York next year. Paterson was Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s lieutenant governor and assumed the governor’s position when Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal.

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An ambitious young man desperate to make his mark in the big leagues, Obama was similarly not so easily swayed back in 1996, when he found himself in a situation not so different from Paterson’s. In fact, the mere suggestion he should step aside drove his personal ambition to succeed politically to a bloodthirsty level.

Alice Palmer, an Illinois 13th district state representative, threw her hat in the ring in the special election Democratic primary for the Illinois 2nd district congressional seat after the incumbent, Mel Reynolds (D), was convicted in a sex scandal. She generously urged a young community organizer named Barack Obama to run for the safe seat she was vacating. But when Palmer (badly) lost the congressional primary, she chose to retain her Assembly seat and requested that Obama step aside. He refused, and without a trace of irony said Palmer’s move was “indicative of a political culture where self-preservation comes in rather than service.” Obama was in it to win it — party and personal loyalty be damned.

Party elders urged Obama to clear the way for Palmer to run for reelection, but he was unrelenting. He was running. Sword drawn, rather than allow Democratic primary voters to have a choice, Obama instead set out to destroy his benefactor, Alice Palmer, and knock her and two others off the ballot altogether. He knew he couldn’t win in a fair election.

By challenging his opponents’ petition signatures in court, the student of Saul Alinsky employed his slipperiest war-room strategies and ultimately succeeded in making sure Palmer et al could not run, and that his name, and his name alone, would appear on the ballot. Obama’s petty tactics included having petitioners’ signatures rendered invalid because they were printed, rather than in cursive writing, or because a recently married woman signed her maiden name. This was how the future president played hardball politics, denying voters a choice in a primary. (Even Iran’s Ahmadinejad allows other names on the ballot with his own.)

In the case of the New York Democratic gubernatorial primary, Obama is yet again intent on manipulating and restricting voters’ options. He is confident New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will win the 2010 primary. Recent polls support that notion. So why get involved? Why publicly humiliate Paterson and insert himself into a primary?

Presidents traditionally stay out of primary fights in open seats and challenger races, and almost always support their party’s incumbent, even if from a chilly distance. Exceptions might include the incumbent’s involvement and/or guilt in a scandal or illegality, and even that isn’t always enough to lose the support of a president and other party leaders.

Why is this president so uncomfortably comfortable throwing Paterson under that ever-so-familiar bus? And isn’t it getting awfully crowded under there?

Revenge. Plain and simple. David Paterson supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, rather than fellow African-American Barack Obama, which did not endear him to Obama. This, however, begs the question, Why is Bill Clinton also down on Paterson? The answer lies in levels of degree of support, and the verbal tap-dance so many politicians perform in order to have it both ways. While Paterson “officially” supported Hillary, he made it abundantly clear it was with great reluctance. Such waffling hurt him with the Clintons, as well.

Gov. Paterson now finds himself without a lifeboat as the sharks begin to circle around him, defenseless against the likely ensuing carnage — Obama-style.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.  She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.