The following appears in the January 29-February 4, 2010 issue of the Long Island Business News:
When Gov. David Paterson completed his Jan. 6 State of the State address, reporters proceeded to do what they always do, run around the Assembly chamber asking political heavies their reaction to the speech.
This year the most obvious person to ask was Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The A.G. gave an even-handed response. He acknowledged that the governor articulated the state’s problems, and then said, “The key now, however, is to get it done. To solve these problems in these times will require sustained effort, seriousness of purpose and the ability to build a coalition for change.”
The next morning, on a talk radio show, the governor gave this reaction to Cuomo’s call for action: “One of the problems, I think in government and State of the State addresses is there’s a scorecard. We measure the person by how much they pass as opposed to how much is right.” In other words, the governor wants to be judged not by what he does but what he says.
What a bizarre comment. Apparently the governor has forgotten the maxim we were taught in grammar school, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Philosophers throughout history have called on people to act on their principles. Aristotle declared in “Politics,” “Felicity is a state of activity; and it is the actions of just and temperate men which are the fulfillment of a great part of goodness.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at the 1932 Democratic convention, not only described New Deal principles to tackle the Great Depression, in a booming voice told his listeners that the situation “calls for action and action now.” And F.D.R. acted.
Winston Churchill reminded the British people during the Blitz that “there is great hope provided action is taken worthy of the opportunity.”
These men knew that delivering speeches was not enough to meet the challenges of their day. Roosevelt and Churchill knew history would judge them by the consequences of their actions.
There may, however, be some method to the governor’s maddening doctrine. He may want to be judged merely by his rhetoric or intentions because his pubic achievements have been few in number.
Throughout his 20 years in the state Senate, Paterson spent most of his time talking in Albany bistros, saloons, discothèques and New Jersey steakhouses. In the Senate chamber, he was not a mover and shaker, and routinely voted for increased spending and taxes.
Since assuming the office of governor, Paterson has given plenty of speeches, told lots of jokes and issued countless press releases. However, following through on his public policy pronouncements has not been his strong suit. Here are a few examples:
• In January 2009, he pledged to cut state spending, downsize the bloated government labor force and not to increase taxes. Four months later he approved a budget that increased spending 10 percent (five times the inflation rate), raised the state income tax and included no layoffs.
• Every time he called the Legislature into special session to address the state’s growing budget deficit, he failed to enact his proposed cuts. Nothing happened. The bored legislators dismissed the governor’s threats and went home.
• For the 2010-2011 state budget year, Paterson has claimed he has courageously and prudently addressed the $7.3 billion revenue shortfall by slashing spending. In fact, the proposed budget increases spending by $2 billion and utilizes a score of imprudent fiscal gimmicks, including one-shot revenue, tax and fee increases.
David Paterson is no profile in courage. He does not possess the grit necessary to be a man of action like FDR or Churchill.
The only time I will celebrate the “judge what I say” Paterson doctrine is when he says these words: “I will not seek a full term as governor of New York.” For our beleaguered state that day can’t come soon enough.