Is it Right To Disapprove of David Paterson?

Let's say that you're part of the 49% of New York State that disapproves of David Paterson's performance as governor. If you were given the hypothetical chance to act as his counsel, what would you tell him to do differently? What is it, specifically, that he's really doing wrong?

It seems that David Paterson's disapproval ratings have little to do with his ideology.

Last month, Governor Paterson conquered a devastatingly inept special session by the State Senate. Regardless of whether it was courage or desperation that spurred his proactivity, hard-luck David Paterson came out of last month's fiasco unusually popular. His earth-shatteringly low approval ratings pulled their way up to a standardly awful 40 percent. He had newspapers printing stories about his policy ideas for once, instead of his bad numbers. He offered us sound financial facts, responsible public addresses, and candid appeals to the people of New York through local media.

Somehow, David Paterson managed to cultivate a living, breathing financial ideology in Albany's hostile natural environment, a place where ideology is usually just a PR technique.

As noble as his financial ideas may be, they left him cut-off from his usual union pocketbooks, friendless and resourceless in an election year. He's combined his new ideology with necessity, appealing as a fiscal conservative to Wall Street at 5,000 dollar-a-plate dinners and speeches across Manhattan.

This has not proven popular in our local news narrative, and it looks like this kind of blatant politicking is what really draws Paterson his most negative feedback. In 20/20 hindsight, it looks like Paterson's most unpopular moments were his most blatantly political, and his most publicly mismanaged. Negative Paterson coverage surged during his commitment to running in 2010 despite pressure from the Obama administration. His numbers began to bottom out because of lack of damage control during a Senate meltdown over the summer that was hardly his fault.

As he wordlessly allows bad headlines to abound about his fund-raising, we should be asking ourselves if it's right to jump down his throat this time. As grotesque as it may seem to appeal to the securities industry's call for bonuses and huge salaries during our historic unemployment, what choice does David Paterson really have?

He definitely can't halt his fund-raising. As the Observer wisely pointed out last week, regardless of his level of delusion as to his chances for a primary win against Cuomo next year, David Paterson would be useless as a lame duck. The moment he implies he's settling for a single term, his administration would likely be sapped of staff and momentum to meet any goals for the upcoming year. For the press, his agenda would likely play second fiddle to Cuomo's. His peers in Albany would be more interested in the AG's office and its connections than the governor's.

We don't need a lame duck. We need a strong executive now; one that can tame the wilds of our legislature, or at the very least stand up to its corruption.

So let's allow him to be one. He's right to root for taxable success in our financial sector. And since there's really no other sector for him to turn to for campaign contributions, he's right to go after their money for his campaign funds, too. He's accepting that he needs to turn to an unpopular fundraising machine in order for his policy ideas to remain relevant in a ferocious political system.

Perhaps our public narrative about Albany is misguided at its core. It seems silly to decry a politician for, well, playing politics. The worst thing about the long-term negative narrative surrounding David Paterson is its reductionism: it assumes that an dauntingly intricate and complex state government can be understood by the actions of one player, and that its problems can be even remotely blamed on him.

After all, we're talking about a man who works in a system that is openly buyable; a system whose engine runs on the fuel of ethically hazy private donation and bribery. When you think about it, it seems like he might be doing a decent job.