The two most successful African-American politicians in recent New York history are on the ropes. David Paterson, the first African-American governor in the history of the Empire State, is being driven from office by wave after wave of allegations. Charles Rangel, the most colorful New York politician since Adam Clayton Powell, and the most powerful African-American congressman in the state’s history, has ‘temporarily’ surrendered his gavel at the Ways and Means Committee.As Joe Conason notes over at Slate.com, in a spirited though ultimately unconvincing defense of Rangel, the Harlem congressman is being hounded from high office by, primarily, The New York Times. The same thing is true of Governor Paterson; the Times has consistently led in the publication of stories which have undermined his credibility, ruined his public character and now exposed him to criminal prosecution.
Unlike Conason, I’m not mad at the Times for uncovering these facts. I’m hoping this signals a new era at the Times of an intense concentration on the murky world of New York City and state politics. There is no other newspaper in this state which has the resources and the reputation to take on the entrenched cultures of corruption and incompetence which are destroying the city and state and blighting millions of lives both upstate and down. You go, Grey Lady!But there’s no doubt that the sudden attention paid to the sins of high-profile black officials is not going down well with everyone. Most New Yorkers think that you can’t throw a rock in our unspeakable legislature without hitting a crook; where are the corrupt white (and Latino and Asian-American) criminals doing the perp walk on the Grey Lady’s front page? I hope they’ll come; one way for the Times to rebuild its reputation and credibility — and incidentally perform a signal service to the city and state — is to own the story of corruption here and to undertake a major effort to clean this mess up.Conason (one of the most consistently readable columnists in the business even when, like now, he’s wrong) seems to think that another strategy is possible: Democrats should circle the wagons around their vulnerable leaders, just as the GOP did for, say, Tom DeLay.There are two reasons he’s wrong. First, this didn’t work out that well for the GOP and it won’t work any better for the Dems. Fighting to save Congressman Rangel would give every GOP candidate in the country something like a five percent boost in the polls. Or does Conason think voters won’t notice if the Democrats stand by their ethically-challenged comrades in arms?The second reason this won’t work is that the cause of ‘good government’ isn’t just a slogan for a significant chunk of the Democratic base. The ‘goo-goos‘ really believe in government and they really believe that for the state to work well it must be led by the pure in heart. It’s easy for hardened New York journalists like Conason (and, I suppose, Mead) to sneer at the delicate sensibilities of Boston blue noses and genteel civic reformers, but take the upper middle class neo-Puritan goody-goodies out of the mix and there isn’t all that much left of the Democratic Party.These folks, spiritually if not biologically descended from the original New England Puritans, really believe that the state is here to make virtue reign among men. In the nineteenth century they were the ‘Conscience Whigs’ who opposed Sabbath delivery of the mails, the relocation of the Cherokee Indians and slavery. Later they supported female suffrage, Prohibition and disarmament. Today they are against torture, tobacco and trans fats. (more…)