The forlorn campaign of George Pataki:
A retired high school teacher, Raymond Harmacinski, began to praise Mr. Pataki’s record when a note of uncertainty crept into his voice.
“I followed you when — you weren’t governor when they hit the towers?” Mr. Harmacinski, 77, asked.
Mr. Pataki quickly assured the man that he had, in fact, been in office on Sept. 11, 2001. “I was,” he said. “I was governor then.”
Do you think Rudy Giuliani gets questions like that?
There are people in the public life of a nation you never forget. For good or for ill they stamp themselves onto the public consciousness. Despite having served three terms as the chief executive of the second largest state in the union, George Pataki is not of those people. The 53rd governor of New York is the sort of fellow they use to fill out police line-ups.
Pataki's 1994 upset victory over liberal lion Mario Cuomo had less to do with his own stellar virtues than with a remarkable series of well timed endorsements. US Senator Al D'Amato, recently elected New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and shock-jock Howard Stern all plunked for Pataki. It seems likely that an animosity toward Cuomo - rather than an admiration for the former mayor of Peekskill - was the deciding factor.
Once in power Pataki earned a modest record as a fiscal conservative. Otherwise he drifted steadily to the Left. The New York Times praised his health care reforms. Bloomberg heralded his staunched environmentalism. He is also openly pro-choice. It's not a bad record really. The odd thing is that George Pataki insists on running as a Republican.
Did we mention he was governor during 9/11? I think we did.
In short Pataki is the answer to a question that no one is asking in 2016. Between his leaden humour - the GOP “only has 147 candidates, so I decided to run.” - and his negative charisma field the campaign has encountered a mixture of bewilderment and low grade mirth. Like hearing about the farewell tour of a band you vaguely remember the same thought repeats itself: Why bother?
The official rationale is that the former governor is "electable". This assumes that the electorate of America in 2016 resembles the electorate of New York state in the 1990s. If anyone is making this case please have them drop me a line the comments. Don't let the tumble weeds roll through.
What we are left with is the sad knowledge that the Pataki campaign - more than most - is the vanity project of a single man. There is no great idea that George Pataki is identified with. Nothing in his record that would elicit strong emotions either for or against. Watching him campaign is underwhelming. The impression left is of an amiable septuagenarian who seems caught in traffic going to his granddaughter's recital.
Listening to Ted Cruz or Rand Paul at full tilt you see men fighting a crusade. Even that amiable old kook of a socialist Bernie Sanders has a certain quixotic quality you can't help but admire. By contrast George Pataki is campaigning so people will remember who the heck George Pataki was two decades ago. There is a basic human sadness about that fact.
It's a standing cliche that politics is show business for ugly people. Think of the sort of people that show business attracts and you realize how biting a line that is. There are intelligent, decent and mature people who go into both professions. They are to be commended. Then there are the desperate creatures that look as if they're auditioning for the part of Peter Keating in a remake of The Fountainhead.
Not much separates George Pataki and Hillary Clinton in terms of policy. I doubt much separates them in terms of ambition. These are political beings that live in the limelight. The key difference is that one has a reasonable shot of becoming president.
Note to George: Next time around marry a charming sociopath. It does wonders for your career.