To Beat D’Amato, Avoid Old Traps and Old Hats

Once again, we have a spectacle of three decent candidates in one ring, trying to knock each other out, while the opposition sits on the sidelines, counting up his coins and slapping his cronies on the back. Why is it that we New York Democrats are always making a spectacle of ourselves? Is there something in that unruly political bent that leads to slapstick comedy? Or is it that if you identify with the vulnerable, you are, ipso facto, a masochist?

Here we are, like it or not, good for us or not, in this primary. What to do? There is this thing about voting for a woman that usually gets me. I like hearing female voices mixing it up out there among the big boys. But I’m not voting for Geraldine Ferraro. I am voting for Charles Schumer, and I have a host of good reasons for it-some of them highly rational and some more intuitive, wisps of thoughts rising like morning fog off the political swamplands.

I am still reeling from disappointment that the first female candidate for Vice President of the United States should have forgotten to tell the pertinent Democrats of her weak spots, such as her husband’s business associates. It was an election we would have lost, anyway, but she sure didn’t help. She hurt. A lot of us women felt that it was unkind to, because of excess personal ambition, snatch away a potential victory that would have been important for our sex. It’s no use being mad at candidates because of their personal drive. They’ve all got it, or they-Shirley Temples of the campaign trail that they are-wouldn’t be standing in front of us begging for votes, trying to please. But there was something in Gerry’s acceptance of the Vice Presidential nod that raised hackles. She knew what could, and almost certainly would, come out. She chose herself over our important issues. It left a bad taste.

Yes, that’s very old news, and it’s no reason not to vote for her now. But there is something else. Listening to Gerry on the tube, I agreed with her point of view but grew bored with the way she revealed it. There was something flat in it. Something old. Something not quite shaded enough, not quick or gracious, not floating like a butterfly. There was something hackish about her; a hack on my side, but a hack nevertheless. Yet, I’d vote for her in a heartbeat against Alfonse D’Amato and without the least regret.

My preferred candidate, though, has been in the trenches for a long time. While Gerry was a talking head, Charles Schumer was a working head. He defeated the D’Amato amendment to deny Federal funds to cities, like ours, with rent protection laws. He helped pass the innovative Nehemiah housing legislation that provides low-cost loans. He kept my local and state taxes deductible. He wrote laws that will help prevent another savings and loan disaster. He fought hard for the Brady Bill. The National Rifle Association really hates him. He wants to make college tuition tax-deductible. He wrote the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances bill that cuts down violence outside of family planning clinics. He is a nuts-and-bolts politician. He is not a pie-in-the-sky poet of the left, but he is what we need: a guy who will serve with absolute dedication on the day and night watches, protecting us against the nefarious legislative plans of Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.

Now Mark Green is a very fine fellow, but it is too easy to tar him with leftist labels and too easy to knock him over with a centrist demagogic campaign. No one doubts that is exactly what Senator D’Amato would do. If Mark Green is his opposition, he’ll play up his man-of-the-working-people pose and cream him. I’m tired of losing elections because our candidates get caught in the clever traps of the right. Those are the ones in which they accuse us of being soft on crime, needing urgent transfusions because of our bleeding hearts, our fatal attraction to big taxes, our tendency to spend big.

It simply won’t be easy for Mr. D’Amato to tar Mr. Schumer with false and frightening attacks. He is fiscally careful. He is knowledgeable about the way government does and does not work. He is the principal author of the crime bill that will put 100,000 more police on America’s streets. This is not my favorite cause, but it establishes him firmly in the political center and will make it possible for mainstream New York City residents and upstaters to vote for him. He is not against the death penalty, which would make him anathema to many citizens. He is a working politician like Mr. D’Amato who will indeed get a pothole covered on your street. The difference is that his obligations and his interests will not lie with the polluters and the conservatives. Mr. Schumer will not be obligated to vote with Big Tobacco, with Jesse Helms, with Newt Gingrich, to attack what is left of the safety net, to undermine our health care, to create more tax breaks for those who don’t need them.

Mr. D’Amato knows that in order to win he has to camouflage his real positions. Before an election, he changes his spots and cries for the fallen flowers and the dead frogs and speaks out against breast cancer. It will take a guy who is frank, honest and strong and who been there to fight against this chameleon of the Right.

I know the objections. The blacks won’t vote for a Jew. The Jews of Borough Park belong to Mr. D’Amato by the busload. The women of the state would prefer a woman. Upper West Side residents want the second coming of Bella Abzug, and a candidate that can’t hide his white maleness will never do. I know that in a perfect world I, too, would rather Adlai Stevenson were running against Mr. D’Amato. But, actually, the task in Washington is going to be about allocating the budget. It’s going to be about holding back the Neanderthals who oppose campaign reform, health insurance reform, nuclear disarmament agreements, gay rights, etc. What we need now is a good, decent person who isn’t in anyone’s pocket. We need a candidate to run against Al D’Amato who has a chance because he isn’t the left’s darling or the feminist’s icon, but is ready to go down there and, act by act, piece of small legislation by piece of small legislation, forge a political bridge to the larger population of Americans, who are neither coldhearted nor fainthearted but who have grown confused as the leadership bandies around words that mean nothing without actions, and acts in ways that are too dreadful to put into words.

I’m tired of losing election after election because we have become too elitist, too old-hat, too knee-jerk, too utopian, too far from the daily worries of the majority of folks out there. I think Charles Schumer every day convinces and wins over more and more of the citizens of this state. Through all the double talk that waits us in the fall, he should be able to stand up to Mr. D’Amato, nose to nose, on the issues.

To Beat D’Amato, Avoid Old Traps and Old Hats