I live in the most politically disgraced state in America: New York.
Our governor, David Paterson, is vacating his post, with the gossip hounds in close pursuit. He'll be lucky if the sheriff doesn't join the hunt anytime soon, too.
His predecessor, we remember, was Eliot Spitzer, who exited in disgrace in the wake of a sex scandal.
The great journalist Jimmy Breslin once wrote a book about the 1962 New York Mets, the worst baseball team of modern times, entitled: "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?"
Now I would turn the question on its head and ask: Can anybody here govern this state? It really makes you wonder. Paterson and Spitzer stand as cautionary tales in the annals of modern politics.
Spitzer's ambition was so visceral, it was animal-like. People who knew him said he secretly envisioned himself someday ascending to be the president of the United States. His ego was as immense as the land mass of his state. But ultimately, he lacked the moral fiber necessary to survive in national politics. He had the ambition but not the ethics.
By contrast, Paterson lacked the experience required to survive in the spotlight. As politicians go, he was little more than the Ringo Starr of politics, an ordinary Joe who found himself in the right place at the right time — second in command to Spitzer when he self-destructed so spectacularly.
Perhaps Paterson is an extraordinary case, but his saga is mundane, especially in government circles. Politicians, extending from John Edwards to Mark Sanford, have been falling like bowling pins lately.
It's because they have no appreciation for what voters care most about: casting their ballots for a role model.
Ethics matter now more than ever in the digital age. When will thick-headed pols learn to understand this basic lesson? It's the digital age, stupid, as James Carville might intone. News travels faster than ever before and has a longer shelf life.
Politicians have to grasp those notions or they'll be finished for good. All of the fine public service that Spitzer and Paterson contributed to the Empire State is gone for good — as if it vanished in a puff of smoke. Thanks to the Internet, no bit of bad publicity ever really goes away any more. The Internet has a photographic memory.
David Paterson seemed like a good guy. He cared about the people of his state. Soon, though, he'll be gone, and all we'll really remember about him is that he served as governor for a few years before he slithered out of the spotlight. I hope the candidates who try to succeed him will remember what he was, more than anything else: a 21st-century cautionary tale.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch. Click here for his latest column.
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