Don't be surprised if New York's insane political drama begins spilling out onto the national scene -- with a possible reprise of last year's Battle of the Titans thrown in for good measure. Yep, we could be seeing Team Obama vs. Bill Clinton, Round Two.
New York's state politics have been messed up for some time -- well earning the dubious distinction of being called the "most dysfunctional government in the country." Take your pick though as to when it started: Was it when our former governor got caught frequenting hookers (though he was already under investigation for inappropriate use of state troopers to track his enemies)?
Was it when his replacement announced on his first day on the job that he had had serial affairs and also used cocaine?
Regardless, the state certainly reached rock bottom three weeks ago when two Democratic senators switched to give the state Senate to the Republicans. The Republicans reorganized the chamber, naming one of the wayward Democrats Senate President Pro Tem -- thus making him acting governor when Gov. David Paterson is out of the state. The other senator switched back, leaving the chamber deadlocked at 31-31.
Neither party recognizes the other as legitimately running the chamber, so there has been an insane kabuki dance over these past three weeks, with both parties declaring that they are running legitimate sessions and "passing" bills that everyone recognizes as being bogus. But the aforementioned Gov. Paterson keeps bringing them back in -- demanding that they resolve the situation so needed tax bills can get passed. He's now trying to get their pay blocked.
Paterson, of course, is part of the problem, an "accidental governor" that no one respects -- not even members of his own party. One Democratic senator recently referred to him as the "coke-sniffing, staff-banging governor."
So, how does this bring in Bill Clinton?
Well, Paterson, in a highly controversial move, selected upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate when the latter became secretary of state. Gillibrand had run for her House seat -- and voted -- as a conservative Democrat on issues such as gun rights, immigration, bank bailouts, etc. As soon as she joined the Senate, however, she ran away from all those positions. Her flipping angered many Democrats, making it look like there would be a wide-open primary for the seat.
Chuck Schumer, the senior Senator in the state delegation, however, stepped in and got the White House to clear the field for Gillibrand. President Obama even called Long Island Rep. Steve Israel who was planning on running against Gillibrand. Israel stayed out.
One person who won't back down, however, is Rep. Carolyn Maloney. The long-time representative of the Upper West Side of Manhattan announced last week that she was running -- even though all the institutional party structures are lining up against her.
Well, almost all. The dean of the New York congressional delegation, Charles Rangel, is staying neutral, but he told President Obama to butt out of the Senate race.
And then there's one other rather big name: Bill Clinton has agreed to appear at a fundraiser for Maloney later this month. He says it's just to thank Maloney for helping Hillary during last year's primary. Sure, it is. Bill Clinton is too smart not to know what sort of signal this sends all around -- to Schumer, who chafed for eight years in Hillary's shadow, even though he was the state's senior senator; to Paterson who turned the selection process to replace Clinton's wife into a farce; and to Obama, whose campaign team ended up slamming Clinton as a crypto-racist. Bill may have forgiven Obama's team now that Hillary is in the Cabinet -- but he hasn't forgotten. Political expert that he is, Bill also probably has noted that Maloney is matching up very well against Gillibrand in early polling. Considering that she was appointed by the stunningly unpopular Paterson, this shouldn't come as a surprise.
And, thus, dysfunctional New York politics now metastasizes onto the national level. Watch out, America.