In Tuesday’s Republican primary for New York State Governor, the establishment candidate, former Congressman Rick Lazio, was upset by political upstart and Tea Party favorite Carl Paladino. But rather than representing an admirable exertion of public will in the face of pressure from the powers-that-be, the outcome in fact represents a major political party that is careening wildly out of control.
Paladino’s public and private records reveal an individual that is on the fringe of even the Tea Party movement, which itself is on the fringe of mainstream political discourse. Although his eventual defeat to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is a near certainty, his mere inclusion on the ballot as a major party candidate reveals something very disturbing about the state of political discourse in America today, a phenomenon that has unfortunately spread to New York.
Paladino was initially viewed as little more than an oddity, a fringe candidate whose far right views would leave him with little chance of defeating Lazio in the primary. His radical right wing principles are reminiscent of those normally espoused in a reliably conservative state like Wyoming or Utah, not in a bastion of progressive political thought like New York.
Even Lazio, a politician best known for his abysmal campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2000, holds some moderate views on issues important to New Yorkers; his record on both abortion and gun control is out of line with the most dedicated conservative activists in his party, people who often play a deciding role in primary contests.
Possibly the most disturbing display of the destructive impact of Paladino’s candidacy so far was his ability to change the tenor of Lazio’s campaign by attacking him from the right. Lazio spent the better part of the last two months of his campaign vociferously campaigning against the so-called World Trade Center Mosque, ignoring many other important issues to do so.
He angered many New Yorkers by appearing to use tragic images of 9/11 for his own political gain in an ad meant to inform New Yorkers of his strident opposition to the construction of the cultural center.
His far right rhetoric on the issue was very likely a response to the demagoguery and radical posturing of Paladino, who deliberately misrepresents the intent of the Cordoba House on his campaign website. The issues page of his site contains the following: “The developers of the Ground Zero Mosque are not moderate Muslims – they support Hamas and blame the United States for 9-11.”
Rather than a discussion of who could best alter the climate of Albany, the Republican primary became a contest to see who could most effectively provoke anti-Islamic sentiment among the voters.
Regardless of whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, when an entire party is held hostage by an argument where neither side is willing to capitulate to facts and reason, one must feel a sense of remorse for the sad state of politics in both our country and out state. Many people are to blame for this troubling new paradigm, but dangerous right-wing ideologues have become a very large part of the problem.
An examination of Mr. Paladino’s private life also reveals some very troubling information. He was recently revealed to have been forwarding highly objectionable e-mails to family and friends, many of which contained racist and pornographic content, including bestiality. The Republican electorate’s apparent lack of concern over this matter shows an entire party willing to overlook any individual’s lack of personal morals and scruples if it impedes their ability to impose a radical right-wing agenda on Americans.
Carl Paladino is a man who is well out of touch with most New Yorkers on nearly every political issue. His campaign rightly pledges to work towards a new method of dealing with the dysfunction of Albany, but whenever he proposes any concrete plans to fix real problems, his solutions read like details from the introductory chapters of a dystopian science fiction novel. He holds as an important piece of his campaign a pledge to send welfare recipients to prison in order to work for their checks, and his hyper-violent rhetoric about State Democrats is reminds one of the sort of dangerous men not seen in the Democratic West since World War II.
Hopefully, New Yorkers turn out in large numbers at the polls this fall to repudiate (refudiate?) this agent of intolerance and discord, who appeals to worst instincts of American voters in order to advance his own radical agenda.
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