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Hypocrisy Comes in All Colors

You would think by now I’d be immune to the affects of stories of political hypocrisy but two stories in the news this week have really got my stomach churning. They aren’t new but both have returned to the headlines due to recent events. The first involves the mayoral race in New York City and the second is about naming an interim replacement for Ted Kennedy.

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In 2001 Michael Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, switched his party registration and ran for mayor of New York City as a Republican. Rudy Giuliani, having served the two term limit, was ineligible to run again. After 9/11 Giuliani proposed extending his term by 90 days to provide continuity in a time a crisis but was rejected. Bloomberg was among those who opposed Giuliani’s proposal and Bloomberg continued to voice his agreement with term limits during his first six years in office. In 2007, amid speculation that he would seek the presidency, Bloomberg left the Republican party and became an Independent, a designation perhaps more consistent with his fiscal conservative and social liberal views. Bloomberg chose not to run for president and turned his attention back to the mayoralty. In October 2008, amid the deepening financial crisis, Bloomberg proposed to extend the term limits for the mayor and the City Council to three terms, and, big surprise, the City Council voted to approve the measure. Bloomberg did not put the issue to the voters in a referendum despite vocal calls for public participation in changing the term limits laws Bloomberg once strongly supported.

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Bloomberg is widely liked in New York. He works for a salary of $1, he is so wealthy that he cannot be bribed, and his policies largely have been pragmatic not political. He also spent on the order of $75 million of his own money in each of his previous campaigns and will likely spend the same or more on this one. His approval rating is quite high and he is expected to win his third term in November despite widespread disapproval for his tactics in bypassing public law enacted by referendum 15 years ago. He is seeking the nomination of both the Republican and Independence parties on the ballot. Did Bloomberg exhibit deft political skill in making his move to extend term limits or is he just another political opportunist and hypocrite for whom the rules do not apply? Any doubt about that question came a few months ago at a news conference when a reporter, noting the recent upturn in the economy, began to ask Bloomberg whether the rationale for extending term limits was fading. Bloomberg rudely interrupted the reporter before the question was done, berated him for raising the issue, and called him “a disgrace.” Uh, no. I think we know who the disgrace is here. But this week NYC held the Democratic mayoral primary and the candidate is generating very little enthusiasm among the electorate. What do you do if you truly think Bloomberg is the best qualified man for the job now that the law is in place allowing him to run?

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In Massachusetts the state legislature is near to approving a measure allowing the Governor to name an interim Senator to fill the seat occupied by Ted Kennedy. The state House approved the measure yesterday and the Senate will likely approve it today. Prior to 2004, as in many other states, the governor had the ability to name a replacement for a Senator unable to complete his term in office. But the Democratic legislature was concerned that John Kerry would win the presidency leaving Republican governor Mitt Romney with an opportunity to name a Republican replacement. The legislature changed the law to require a special election to be held approximately five months after the seat was vacated. Now, however, with Democrats needing every vote to pass health care reform, they are looking to Massachusetts to change its law once again to allow a temporary replacement until the special election can be held in January (Mike Dukakis heads the list of interim replacements).

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I certainly want to see some manner of health care reform enacted this fall; but the hypocrisy of changing a law, passed just 5 years ago to prevent a Republican from gaining a Senate seat, in order to assure a Senate majority for a single piece of legislation, is truly pathetic. As I said at the start, I don’t know why I’m surprised or upset by these tactics. They are standard operating procedure in government. But I guess that’s exactly why it bothers me.

About Mike Fields

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Michael Fields has written 65 posts in this blog.

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  • It would be nice if, once in a while, these pols were honest, I agree.

    Most pols support term limits until they apply to themselves. Then, suddenly, they change. The MA situation is just so absurd that I can’t imagine anyone thinks it’s appropriate … though surely many will say that they do.

    I’d like to see someone make a principled stand and then stick to it even when it’s inconvenient. But look at the discussion of filibusters, etc.. They’re always inappropriate when done by the OTHER party. They’re an important part of the process when done by one’s own party.
    .-= Wickle´s last blog ..Christians Excusing Assassination? =-.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    I’m almost wayed by the argument you laid out regarding Bloomberg, but I think it differs from the Massachussetts situation.

    Bloomberg, is acting solely on his own self-interests. The Massachusetts Legislature, however (and in both cases) has acted on behalf of its electorate. Only 12% of registered voters in MA are Republican. Would, then, a GOP replacement for Kerry have been truly representative of the majority of voters? Probably not, and it makes sense why the legislative body made the move it did to guard against the possibility.

    Once again, the Massachussetts legislature is faced with a question of how to best serve it’s constituency. It’s their state, it’s their option, right? I actually think that the health care debate will drag on far past any interim replacement (something like a 3 or 4 month period?). But if the vote somehow came in the next three months without a MA Senator who (like Kennedy) supports the President’s agenda, the outcome could possibly have changed. In essence, this time the State Legs are actually acting to protect the status quo AND an electorate that is heavily in favor of health care reform. Don’t forget-the residents of that state already enjoy universal heath care coverage and (last I checked) a balanced budget.

    For the record (and to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure) I think mandated term limits are dumb and can work against an electorate. Bloomberg’s situation is a good reminder of that. I also have to say it: We have Constitutionally mandated term referendums called “elections”. If the past few weeks-marches on Washington, town halls overflowing- have demonstrated anything, it’s that the will of the people can be organized and excercised. I

  • I think your post is right on target, Mike. No matter which party is in power, be it at the federal or state level, it seems they are willing to change the rules to fit any particular situation and to benefit themselves. I understand what Laurie is saying about the Massachusetts situation, but it still smacks of hypocrisy.

  • I think Mike hit the proverbial nail on the head. We are no longer a country where right is right and wrong is wrong. Thus, the above situations can occur because wrong can always be seen as right.
    .-= Dominique´s last blog ..PELOSI’s #1 TARGET: Congresswoman BACHMANN! =-.

  • Laurie – The thing about MA is that the voters chose a Republican governor, too, regardless of the major party affiliation. I don’t see any way to get around the fact that they are changing the rules purely to accommodate what serves their party’s interests. Either having the duly-elected governor make an appointment or a special election is the right way to go.

    The law shouldn’t be that the governor gets to make a choice if s/he’s a member of the Commonwealth’s majority party, otherwise it goes to a special election.

    As for term limits, I can go either way on them. In concept, you’re right that that’s what elections are for. On the other hand, there is power with incumbency. Term limits are an imperfect solution to that, but they might be better than other options.
    .-= Wickle´s last blog ..Christians Excusing Assassination? =-.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Wickle, you do have a point. Except people elected Romeny to represent them at the State, not Federal level. The voters of Massachussetts had made their Senate preferences known-party and ideology- over decades and the Legislature decided to honor those preferences as well as protect their constituency. If the good folks of Massachussets don’t like this, they can replace their Legislators. But unless we live in MA, honestly, what business is it of ours?

    Dominique, I’m not sure that “right is right and wrong is wrong” in politics nor with the voters. It is true that Americans often view the exact same situation completely differently depending on whether or not they agree with the politics of the group, party or person who is at the center. I can almost guarantee that if the situation were reversed-if a venerable GOP Senator died in the middle of legislation that was his life’s work- that the arguments would be completely reversed. The same goes for our politicians.

    Take Rudy Guiliani. He fought for term limits, then whined when they worked against him. He also fought hard as a Congressman for Presidential line-item veto when Republicans were in the White House , then sued to reverse it when it became apparent that a Democratic President (Clinton) was about to line-item billions away from New York City, of which he was now Mayor. Then when he ran for President, he once again was in favor of line-item veto, only this time (if he were elected) he’d make it a Constitutional Amendment-basically so that nobody could sue to stop him. He’s by far not the only example, but handy as Mike already brought him up in the initial post.

  • Wickle – As for term limits, I can go either way on them. In concept, you’re right that that’s what elections are for. On the other hand, there is power with incumbency. Term limits are an imperfect solution to that, but they might be better than other options – – The only thing I would add is that our founding fathers intended individuals who served to do so for a short time so they could return to their lives. They saw aw government as a means to serve the common good not to serve a individuals good. Our government today is so far removed from this that I am amazed it works at all sometimes.

    Laurie — I’m not sure that “right is right and wrong is wrong” in politics nor with the voters. It is true that Americans often view the exact same situation completely differently depending on whether or not they agree with the politics of the group, party or person who is at the center. I can almost guarantee that if the situation were reversed-if a venerable GOP Senator died in the middle of legislation that was his life’s work- that the arguments would be completely reversed. The same goes for our politicians. — I’m not sure I clearly said what I meant to say or I am not understanding your statemtent. I was referring to what I and many of my conservative friends and family believe. That right is right and wrong is wrong and no political ideology or social more can change that. In other words truth is truth. I don’t believe for one nano second that politicians (most of them) believe this nor do I believe that a good portion of our country now believes that. However , having said that, there is still a large part of America that does. Additionally, just because we may not believe it to be true doesn’t make it true. I agree with Congresswoman Bachmann that Washington is rampant with corruption as is Massachusetts.
    .-= Dominique´s last blog ..WE deserve TRUTH =-.

  • Political expediency seems to know no bounds. Which is a shame, because even though Bloomberg doesn’t draw a going rate salary for being mayor of New York, he enjoys all of the trappings of the position including immense power. That power is what seems to entice, beguile and cause our political elites to forget that they are mere mortals.
    .-= Matt Keegan´s last blog ..Rebates For Buying, Using An E85 Vehicle =-.

    • I agree, Matt. The power our politicians hold is very enticing and they are not willing to give it up so easily. That unwillingness leads to them doing anything they have to do, in order to keep their office and the power and status that goes with it.

  • Mike

    Thank you all for your very thoughtful and insightful comments. I think it’s clear that Bloomberg’s move to eliminate term limits he’d opposed for years smacks of hypocrisy. I didn’t think the MA question was any less blatant — the state legislature is reacting to pressure from Washington on the basis of a single piece of legislation. If health care reform wasn’t before Congress we would not be having this conversation. The people of MA elected Mitt Romney and one of the powers of his office was to replace Senators when seats became vacant. They chose to change that law because they were not comfortable with the possible results. Fair enough — I have no problem with that. I have a big problem, however, with changing the law again right in the middle of the exercise of that law. And I have heard no great swell of popular support for this change — just the push from DC and that’s why so many Democratic members of the House voted against the bill though it still passed easily.

    But Laurie asks an interesting question — what business is it of ours? The answer, I believe, is precedent. Why does the state legislature get to interpret the will of the people in their choices for Congress? We choose individuals not parties when we elect our representatives. The people of MA chose Ted Kennedy to be their Senator — not the Democratic candidate. The vote may have gone to the Republican candidate if someone other than Kennedy was running. Over 50% of MA voters are not party affiliated — that’s a huge independent group that can swing any election in any direction. What if the Senator to be replaced was a Republican? Interpreting the will of the people is a slippery slope and doesn’t necessarily provide a result that best serves the constituency. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the state legislature to play games with the law. And I’d hate to see this action set a precedent in other states when similar situations arise in the future especially when the political leanings of the constituency are much less clear. I’d like to see other states address this issue now — maybe a requirement for an interim appointment from the same party, a special election 5 months later, and a guarantee from the interim replacement that he/she will not run for the office?

    A few final points: Laurie, I’m not sure where the mix up is but Rudy Giuliani never served in Congress. Are you thinking about Ed Koch? Second, does anybody have a view about voting for Bloomberg if you consider him the far better candidate for mayor despite his term limits ploy? And finally, re term limits, I too have mixed feeling but I know I’d like to see Supreme Court justices have some limits either by age (say 75-80) or by length of service (say 20 years?). I really don’t know what the Founding Fathers were thinking when they put the enitre House up for election every two years — it’s a nightmare. I’d like to see House seats change every three years and I’d like to see it rotated so that one third of seats come up each year to allow some continuity and keep the entire House from constantly focussing on the next election. Re term limits — think I’ll try a seperate post on that one.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Mea culpa, Mike- Guliani was for the line item veto when he was acting as Assistant Attorney General for Reagan, and continued to bang for it during the Bush years. I actually find this worse than if he were a Congressman, considering he fought to have it overturned as un-Constitutional when he stood to get directly spanked, but didn’t seem to mine the Constitutional problems when he lobbied for it as an attorney. Situational politics? Probably.

    I still must disagree regarding Massachussetts. Any legislative body interprets the will of the people. Because federally elected official replacement is done at the State level, it is completely appropriate to make changes at the State Legislative level. You make a good point that most of MA voters are independent. but the last US Senator from MA left in 1947 and there are only 5 GOP STate Senators. The people of Massachussetts may not vote for a party, but their overwhelming and majority preferences for an ideology is well set. decades. The “precedent” here is nothing but an appropriate legislative body making a procedural rule-within their stated jurisdiction- to represent the well-tread majority preferences of their constituents. And again-if it happens in one of our home states, we have a voice. If not, we just don’t and I find that fitting.

    Wickle made a decent point: MA voters did elect Romney, but Governors traditionally have very little effect on the ideological issues (abortion, health care etc) that Senators deal with. And I stand by my point that I think the overriding issue here isn’t with procedural matters, but rather the ideological agree/disagree factor. I truly believe that if the situation-and parties-were reversed, most would argue in the opposite.

  • Mike

    So let’s pretend for a moment that Laurie is running for public office — here’s how it would go:

    Hannity: So Laurie, now you admit you LIED about Giuliani just to try to score some cheap political points?

    Laurie: No, I had my facts wrong and I corrected myself as soon as it was brought to my attention.

    Olberman: Nice try Oregon but you’ve been caught in the lie. What else have you lied about?

    Laurie: I havn’t lied about anything. I made a simple mistake. I’m human. I make mistakes.

    Limbaugh: Human? Prove it! Let’s see your identification stating that you were actually born on this planet.

    Laurie: That’s ridiculous. What an outrageous accusation!

    Dowd: Quit your whining sweetie. Whatever cred you had before you lost it when you started sleeping with Glenn Beck.

    Laurie: Wait, WHAT??!!! Where do you get this stuff from? I should sue you all for making such ridiculous, unfounded, and unproven accusations.

    National Enquirer: Good luck with that. It’s called freedom of the press.

    We all want our politicians to be perfect. If Obama utters even a word that is remotely inaccurate the conservative media machine lights up just as the liberal media did whenever Bush opened his mouth without clearance from Dick Cheney. People (and most politicians qualify though there are a few I think belong in Men in Black) are imperfect. They make mistakes and some are purely unintentional misstatements. It would be nice if we could accept that before hanging our politicians in effigy with every word spoken out of context.

    • That’s a good analogy, Mike and it sounds just like something that might happen. 😉

      I understand what you are saying about us wanting our politicians to be perfect, but let me say this. I have a major problem with politicians, especially conservatives, who have made such major mistakes that go against everything they have been standing for. Sanford, Vitters, Ensign, etc. come to mind. Maybe I am wrong, but even though I know they are human and humans will always make mistakes, I expect them to at least try to live up to the standards they have been preaching in their political lives.

      Another thing that causes me concern is how these politicians seem to want to continue on in their political careers like nothing has happened, as if the infidelity they were caught in doesn’t matter. That makes me wonder if there is not an even greater problem under the surface and I can not help but be very skeptical of them.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Mike, I’m a bit offended. I am much more media savvy than that…

    To Hannity: I’m sorry, Sean. I just found out my researcher is a stinking illegal. (Win the day by pandering to his cause)

    To Olbermann: I’m sorry, Kieth. I just found out my researcher is a stinking right-winger (Same concept, different show)

    To Dowd: Laughable, Maureen. If I were going to sleep with a platinum-bleach head with a big mouth, I’d go for Billy Idol (no election points scored, but scores an interview with Hustler to widen my appeal)

    To Limbaugh: Are you on drugs again, Rush? (totally stokes the fundraising from the zealots on both sides and makes my race for the local school board top all national elections in money spent)

    To the National Enquirer: I misspoke, but I have some pictures of my opponent with an underage boy that you are free to print.

    With the constant media coverage of candidates and politicians, every little thing can be turned into a big thing. Unfortunately, some of the big things that should be HUGE are handled so well by our slick pols that the media folks just jump on board.

    • I can’t say LOL enough. Who says a political discussion can’t be funny? 😉

  • Mike

    Hysterical! Great comeback Laurie.

  • Laurie, that is just about the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.
    .-= Wickle´s last blog ..Christians Excusing Assassination? =-.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Thanks, guys, and thanks to Mike. The punch line gets all the giggles but the straight man does all the work!

  • ST

    With regards to Bloomberg,I think that there are very few people that can match him in terms or running a city, state or even the nation. He is a proven entity; I hope he at least becomes the governor of New York, soon.

    As for MA, I think that there should be a federal law that bans nomination of Senators by Governors already. Senators and Representatives represent the people, thus be selected by the people and not a single governor.

  • Mike

    Thanks for commenting ST. As I said, I very much like and admire Bloomberg as mayor. I just have a problem with his hypocritical grab at a third term. And I think it would be great to see him run for Governor but I think he likes NYC too much and Albany too little.

    Re MA, I have to say I absolutely do not want to see the Federal government get involved in telling the states how to choose their Senators. I think MA is close to getting this right and I’d like to see other states adopt something along the lines of what they are proposing now: an interim replacement named by the Governor (and I think that person should be of the same party as the Senator being replaced regardless of the politics of the Governor) with assurance that the interim Senator will not run in a special election to be held 3-6 months later. But that’s for the states to decide individually not for the Feds to mandate.

  • Laurie. Oregon

    Mike, I like your proposal. It takes the guess work out and ensures that the most recent ideological choice of the people is respected. It also guarantees that the interim pick will actually DO the work of hte people, rather than spend the time campaigning. Tight legislation on the matters with reasoned thought would certainly help to avoid the flip-flop position like we’ve seen in MA.

    It appears that the MA senate did pass the appointment legislation. Given that the makeup is something like 35-5 (D to R), I found the ultimate vote interesting : 24-16. Any insight as to the arguments against from Democrats?

  • I believe the Governor of MA has signed the law and will use a special power to have it take effect when he signs it.

    Something else, I think Mike is correct when he says the replacement Senator should be of the same party as the one who is being replaced. That is only fair, no matter which political party is in power.