I’d posted a few times on the outrage that would have been the appointment of aristocrat Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in New York. The idea of someone who has never ran for office or been a public servant to be handed on of the most important exclusive jobs in the land was repugnant to me. Seeing Kennedy step aside from the seat hunt was satisfying, but I can’t say that Kirsten Gillibrand is a better pick, even if she has actually won her office a few times.
Gillibrand is a conservative Democrat – a Blue Dog with little understanding of the rule of law. She voted for the FISA Amendments Act, which included retroactive immunity for telecoms who helped the Bush administration spy on Americans. She is an opponent of comprehensive immigration reform. That said, she also voted against TARP and will be a support of worker rights legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act.
How does the conservative Gillibrand represent New York, one of the most progressive states in the country? How will her views evolve in the Senate, where she won’t have to appeal to fairly conservative voters in upstate New York’s 20th Congressional District? It’s certainly possible that she will become as liberal as her constituents, but I can’t think of a single Democratic Senator who became more liberal after attaining office. It’s much more common for senators to become less liberal as the enter the collegial, risk-averse Democratic Senate caucus.
There were many better candidates to represent New York in the Senate — Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Andrew Cuomo, Tom Suozzi, Nydia Velazquez, Steve Israel, and the list goes on. Paterson picked a conservative Blue Dog, a rarity in New York federal politics. I just don’t get it.
The most likely (and cynical) answer is that Paterson wants up-state political credibility and he believes Gillibrand will be a strong advocate for Paterson’s first campaign for governor. Unfortunately while this move may help keep Paterson in office, it doesn’t serve the citizens of New York as well as it serves New York’s Governor. As is so often the case in Democratic politics, the best liberals can do is hold their breath and hope centrists and conservatives will end up being more liberal than they’ve ever been before while entering the conservative legislative bodies in Washington.