Eliot Spitzer conceded to Vanity Fair recently that people will never get over the prostitution scandal that brought him crashing down to the ground last year. “My obituary’s written,” he said. “And that is a very hard thing to live with.” But it can’t have been without a little glee that he began reading about the cartoonish coup going on in Albany this week. At last, a scandal to rival (well, almost) his own! (Yeah, okay, not really.) He couldn’t help himself — he had to throw in his two cents. In his Slate column, he crowed about all the good this kind of upheaval does for a politically stagnant place like Albany. “Individual legislators rarely if ever even attempted to exercise the traditional prerogatives that we expect of congressional legislators: voicing serious dissent, pushing an individual legislative agenda, conducting open hearings on contentious issues of public policy,” he wrote. “So good government groups and editorial boards rightly demanded that individual legislators be empowered to turn the Assembly and Senate into real deliberative chambers. In an odd way, that is exactly what is happening.”
We should not forget that democracy is often an ugly process. The sterile decision-making that was criticized when it was behind closed doors has been replaced for the moment by the crass and ugly sausage-making that is legislative process.
Spitzer is, of course, right in one way — this shake-up, because it is so embarrassing to all involved and because there will be so much scrutiny over how it pans out, will likely result in a bit (but not a vast amount) of improvement. But that’s like saying that when your house burns down and you have nowhere to live for a while, you might build a better house later. It may be true, but it doesn’t mean you won’t still have the same property drainage problems, that you haven’t wasted important time, and it certainly won’t bring back little Pepper, who only had a key, brief window to make it to the doggy door.
Yes, democracy is often an ugly process. But the problem is that what we’re seeing in Albany isn’t democracy. It’s childish power-grabbing, illegitimate twisting of rules, and a full halt to the actual process of legislation — right before the end of an important legislative session. Not to mention the fact that the whole thing was brokered by private billionaire Tom Golisano, a man who is so unelected that he was not elected for governor three times in a row. Yes, sterile decision-making by three men in a room is a terrible system. But it is better than what we have right now, which is no decision-making at all.