Monday, October 3, 2011

On “Intellectual Consistency”

Let’s be honest: People for whom “intellectual consistency” is the most important thing in the world are usually pompous asses. Sure, it’s nice to be consistent, but it is better to be realistic – especially if you’re in politics.

I offer this observation as an introduction to a mini-essay with twists and turns. It’s an essay on: “Knowing when to say when,” which I believe is the mark of a good leader.

Case in point: Andrew Cuomo, who, in recent days, has quickly pulled the plug on two ill-conceived initiatives and carefully calibrated a third matter with dangerous potential for his administration.

I’m referring to his administration’s proposal to eliminate vision tests for those seeking renewal of their drivers licenses and another proposal would have provided taxpayer funding for sex change operations. Both measures struck most New Yorkers as wrong-headed – a fact that Cuomo immediately recognized and acted upon.

The third matter has to do with the PEF contract situation. This is where Cuomo has shown, I think, remarkable restraint. He knows the public mood, which, (fair or not) isn’t too sympathetic toward state workers. It would have been an easy thing for him to come out swinging after the union rejected the contact, and I’m sure one part of him really wanted to do that. But he didn’t. So far, Cuomo has been very, very careful with this situation and that’s a good thing. The matter is a long way from resolution, but his posture of trying to engage the union and keeping all his options open is smart.

Contrast this experience to that of Eliot Spitzer four years ago. Spitzer had an unerring sense of who he was for eight years as attorney general -- he fought FOR small investors. But when he became Governor, it seemed like he was fighting AGAINST everyone. He fought health care execs. He fought Republican lawmakers. He fought the Democrats. He fought the media. He fought his own people. He was as stubborn as could be -- the ultimate example of which was his proposal to provide drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens. He allowed this controversy, in which he defended himself with an “intellectual consistency” argument, to fester for months. And when he finally pulled the plug, even Jim Tedisco was tired of using him as a punching bag.

The point is that “knowing when to say when” is absolutely critical.

Despite my reputation as a tough enforcement official (I’ve been described as “dogged” as “a maverick” and a “a bull in a china closet,”) I always secretly prided myself on knowing just how far to push without being counterproductive. Yes, there were plenty of times when I knew I was pushing the envelope a bit, but when I’d reached the limit of what I could do given the constraints I faced, I moved on.

There is just one exception this, (proving my point about intellectual consistency): I continue to believe in my heart of hearts that I should fight for improved ethics law enforcement. To me, it’s a core value. Everything turns on having an aggressive, but fair enforcement officials who aren’t in the back pocket of the governor or anyone else. And in this regard, we’re now in our fourth month (some would argue four years) without a functioning state ethics panel in New York.

If only I could generate some public outrage on the fact that there’s ZERO ethics enforcement in New York.

Speaking of consistency, or, more accurately, the lack of it: Why is it that the media and the public can get soooo jazzed up about sex change operations, but not ethics?

Why indeed!

1 comment:

  1. David,

    I hope you still monitor this. This post is still relevant today. Your point is very valid - why is our focus on "selfish" needs rather than the overall state of the society?

    You are right, unfortunately, I doubt there is any fixing this.