As I write this, no one knows who will win the 24th Congressional District seat. Our paper goes to bed at the end of business on Tuesdays, while voters are still making their way to the schools and churches and town halls where they cast their ballots. So I don’t know who has won the favor of the good people of this strange district, which from the sky looks like a sonogram of Syracuse with a bad case of goiter.
Political campaigns in the modern era numb the mind with endless repetition of empty slogans and exaggerated attacks on the character and positions of the opposition. The only races in which candidates come close to murmuring the truth are those of no consequence or without any serious competition in sight. In a close race like the 24th, where scripts and checks alike are written by outsiders, only a fool speaks the truth. And Dan Maffei is no fool.
He reads the polls and knows the comments of voters in focus groups better than he knows the work of Dickens, and he can’t put all that stuff aside long enough to just say what he thinks. That is the reason he has that pained look on his face so much of the time: He’s afraid to say what he knows is true for fear it will hurt his chances. Inside, he is an honest man who can’t stand the game he so obviously feels he must play. He wants to be one of us so badly that it doesn’t seem to occur to him that when we ask someone to represent us, we want to know who he is, and not who he thinks we are.
You hear this in his bland pronouncements about fighting for the middle class, a Democratic cliché ever since the Clinton days, when the silver-tongued boy from Arkansas drove a stake into the heart of Bobby Kennedy’s legacy and convinced his party that advocacy for the poor was a good way to lose elections. You hear it in his waffling back and forth on the Afghan war and the National Security Agency spying and, well, you fill in the blank. Mostly, you hear it in his proud assertions of how frequently he reaches across the aisle and breaks with the president to join with the Republicans, which simply makes all the exaggerated claims about his opponent’s extremism all the more confusing.
Ultimately, though, the reason Maffei should lose is his failure to defend the one landmark piece of legislation that he will one day, I believe, be proud to have voted for: the Affordable Care Act. In each of his debates, he was asked about Obamacare, and all he could manage to do was to tell us what was wrong with it. To listen to Maffei, Obamacare is more a manageable illness than a progressive watershed. I kept waiting for him to stop whining about the Welch Allyn tax on medical devices, turn to the camera and say: “For 30 years, Americans have been asking their government to rein in excesses by insurance companies, to make it a crime to kick a sick person off the insurance rolls and to give our kids a chance to remain on the family plan until they were through school (up to age 26). Barack Obama did all that and more, and I was happy to be able to vote for that bill.”
Instead, he backed up and sputtered about how he had read the whole Affordable Care Act (a colossal waste of time) and about how much he knew it needed changing. Of course it could be better. That’s not the point. Maffei’s version of better is to make it more progressive by adding a public option. He wants everyone to move forward to a time when we will all have health care coverage, when candidates will refer to health care the way both Katko and Maffei talked in their debates about Social Security: as a sacred trust.
Maffei should be proud, but he’s afraid to pluck his suspenders in public. And so he failed to give even people who agree with him a strong reason to pull the lever next to his name.
Focus on Family
Katko’s campaign enraged the Maffeis that Dan Maffei’s daughter was born in a hospital in Washington, D.C., and not back here in his home district. Vito Fossella, a Republican who represented Staten Island in the House from 1997 to 2009, was way out front on this one. Fossella’s wife bore him three children in Staten Island, while his mistress, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, gave birth to his child in the nation’s capital. How’s that for family values? Fossella resigned after a DWI stop led to the revelation of his dual life. Now he works as a lobbyist with Park Strategies, the company of former U.S. Sen Al D’Amato.
If you find our political races a tad boring, you can always click over to silive.com and follow the antics of Fossella’s successor, Michael Grimm, who is likely to be re-elected in spite a federal indictment for tax fraud. Gotta love it.