Uncharted Territory

Hoo boy, sometimes it gets deep. 

Some things that recent politics have taught us.  Drug use during one’s youth can be forgiven in a politician so long as he or she is forthright and honest about it.  Extra marital affairs can also be okay as long as you are forthright and honest about it and don’t pay five grand an hour to partake in said affairs.

The new New York governor, David Paterson, seems to be walking into uncharted territory by testing to see if people will accept both at the same time.

It was Obama who taught the political world that drug use could be overcome as a political obstacle, and Paterson managed to come clean about a rough patch he and his wife went through a while ago and seemed to not take too much damage.  This is pretty remarkable stuff given that sex and drugs are the easy scandals.

When we look at a scandal, contrary to what you may personally believe, the effect that scandal has upon the smooth and legal functioning of government is almost completely irrelevant.  What is relevant is how easy is the scandal to understand?

People don’t even know what the hell Yellow Cake is, let alone where to get it, and how Niger controls the export of Uranium out of the country, so there’s no way you can ask people to fully grasp the concept of an Administration, say, not being completely truthful about a certain dictator getting his hands on the stuff that can be used to make a nuclear weapon.  They probably don’t understand the laws surrounding Indian Casinos in a state they don’t live in, so a lot of folks are really kinda sketchy about Casino Jack Abramoff.

But people tend to have a pretty good grasp on sex.  If they don’t, the internet is rife with instructional websites that can bring just about anyone up to speed in no time at all.  A lot of people also understand drugs–there may be differing opinions, but people have the general gist one way or another.

So while it may take someone with an economy major and a gift for dumbing arguments down to explain Enron or the Keating Five scandals, an elected politician putting his penis where it doesn’t belong or putting something in his blood stream that shouldn’t be there is simple enough for mass consumption.

And it’s interesting. People don’t just know about sex, they like it.  They want to know who is having sex with who, and they want to make judgements about the whole thing.  Drugs are exciting and dangerous, or they are the sign of low moral fiber.  A politician snorting cocaine off of a hooker’s backside is the stuff of crime novels; the finer points of FISA law is the stuff of sleep medication.

So it was to me kind of a shock that Paterson survived the first announcement that he and his wife both cheated on each other.  Personally, I applaud the openness and the willingness of New Yorkers to accept it for what it is and move on.  But this new admission that Paterson has engaged in drug use also kinda of has me on full alert.

Let me be clear, I’m not condemning the guy.  Far from it.  He did what he did long ago in the past, and he’s owned up to it; bravo.  To be honest I hope that Obama’s and Paterson’s admissions kind of spark something of a trend and create a more honest discussion of drug use in this country.  In truth, I’ve never been a legalize marijuana crusader, but at the same time I think we really close off a lot of solutions and turn our backs on a lot of necessary challenges by prescribing too enthusiastically that drugs are bad and should be illegal mentality.

One hopes that an honest discussion about drugs will lead to a realistic approach to those who do use drugs or have used drugs in the past.  In the case of marijuana, the final result may come in the form of legalization, while with harder drugs we might start taking rehab a little more seriously as well as dealing with addiction like the disease it truly is.

But this is all besides the point.  I have to kind of question Paterson’s wisdom at this point.  He’s only been in office for about a week now and has already admitted to being engaged in the two biggest scandal classifications in politics.  I wonder if the double-whammy effect might not be too much and really start to hurt him.

I hope it doesn’t.  I really hope he pulls through.  For one, I’d like to see him given a chance to actually govern.  For another, this kind of open honesty I think would be great for American politics.  When Paterson’s former boss Eliot Spitzer got caught up in the prostitution scandal, I mused that we put our politicians on impossibly high pedestals and provide too much temptation for them to fall off.  I don’t think that tendency is a particularly healthy one.

We don’t need paragons in office.  There are plenty of very flawed people that would be just as good if not better at governance, but they wouldn’t have a chance in a political landscape where the slightest misstep is enough for people to call for your head.  Paterson has the potential to alter that a little bit, and I truly hope he does.

For more (courtesy memeorandum): Balloon Juice, A Blog For All, Swampland, and Sister Toldjah.

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