George Pataki is running for president. For those of you not familiar with the name, Pataki was governor of New York state for 12 years. He is the 285th announced or soon-to-be-announced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. I exaggerate, but not by much.
Pataki is quiet and unassuming -- things most of the other members of the GOP presidential gaggle are not. He also may be delusional, which does put him in good company with the rest of the crowd.
But here’s the funny thing about Pataki: He says he’s a Republican. If that's so, it’s not any kind of Republican that Americans have been exposed to in the 21st century. The Grand Old Party is surely old, but in 2015, it is hardly grand. It is, sad to say, a party that has lost its mind and sold its soul. The onetime Party of Lincoln today is not even the Party of Ford. It’s the party of Cheney and pick-a-Bush, sponsored by the brothers Koch.
I have resisted jumping into the 2016 presidential “debate” until now, figuring it was too early. Like, a year too early. But as the body count has increased (much more modestly on the Democratic side), I started wondering if my lack of zeal for what I was witnessing would somehow risk me being left behind. Then again, I told myself, so what?
Then George Pataki, all 6 feet, 5 inches of him, pulled me in. Is this guy serious? President? Of the United States? Yeah, he’s an easygoing, likeable sort. Bright. Grew up on a farm. Once upon a time, I even wrote editorials endorsing him for the New York State Legislature. And he was elected governor of New York three times. That’s no easy trick for a Republican since it’s a liberal state with a Democratic voting edge. Even more impressive, Pataki beat liberal icon and incumbent governor, Mario Cuomo, the first time out. In getting re-elected twice, Pataki showed that he can work with people of differing political views to get things done.
But … George … Republicans don’t care about that today. In fact, they run away from it. Since you’ve been away from politics for eight years, maybe you haven’t noticed that the word “bipartisan" has been stricken from the party vocabulary. If Democrats like it, Republicans don’t. Period.
The real irony of the Pataki candidacy, though, centers on his positions on the issues. While he is definitely a state’s rights, low-tax, fiscal conservative in the traditional Republican mold, his views on a host of hot-button issues are simply not in sync with today’s Republican Party.
Let’s start with climate change. Republicans have fought President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat it at every turn. The GOP-dominated Senate even went so far as to vote that humans are not causing climate change and the Republican governor of Florida has actually banned state employees from using the term, “global warming.” Finally, polls regularly show that a majority of Republicans, who proudly proclaim they are not scientists, do not believe global warming is happening.
Pataki? Unlike many Republican politicians, the Columbia and Yale graduate respects science. Strike one. He believes global warming is real. Strike two. In fact, he co-chaired the 2007 blue-ribbon, Independent Task Force on Climate Change organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. The other co-chair was Tom Vilsack, former Democratic governor of Iowa who is President Obama's agriculture secretary. The panel issued a thick report stating that human-caused climate change represented a world crisis that required immediate attention. Strike three.
How about abortion? Pataki is pro-choice. Enough said.
Immigration? He supports a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country. "We can't send 11 million people back in railroad cars and buses and trains," he has said.
He believes the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states, but as governor he signed a law providing rights for gays, including benefits for same-sex couples.
He also pushed through a tough gun-control law banning some assault weapons and requiring ballistic fingerprinting for weapons as well as raising the legal age to own a gun from 18 to 21. And he thinks it should be up to each state to decide whether to legalize marijuana.
For good measure, the former mayor of Peekskill thinks the nation should invest billions into building a first-class rail system.
Does that sound like a Republican to you?
Yes, he rips Obamacare and thinks the president hasn’t been militarily aggressive enough with ISIS and shouldn’t be negotiating with Iran on nuclear power. But virtually all the Republican candidates say those things, whether they believe them or not.
The point is, Pataki, who turns 70 this month, offers a bipartisan governing approach and reasonable views on some emotional issues in a party virtually devoid of such. In a general election against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, that might sway some Democratic voters of a more conservative bent. But first he’s got to get through the Republican primaries and emerge victorious over the likes of: Ted (I will renounce my Canadian citizenship) Cruz; Marco (I’m young, Cuban and have a sugar daddy) Rubio; Rand (every citizen for himself) Paul; Ben (the perfect prescription for the Tea Party) Carson; Carly (I’m as wacky as any of the guys) Fiorina; Mike (the huckster) Huckabee; Rick (one more time) Santorum; Lindsay (I’m the most conservative of them all) Graham; Jeb (it’s my turn) Bush; Scott (fire the unions) Walker; Chris (I didn’t close the bridge) Christie; Rick (I can count to three now) Perry; Bobby (I really messed up Louisiana) Jindal; John (who?) Kasich; and Donald (oh shut up) Trump. Sarah Palin, where are you?
Fox News, the mouthpiece of the Republican Party, says it’s only going to put 10 candidates on stage for its televised GOP debates. Pataki might have trouble just cracking the starting lineup, which tells you where reasonableness, a respect for science and a willingness to compromise in governing get you today in the GOP.
In reporting on his decision to run for president, the Wall Street Journal described Pataki as a “centrist.” Talk about the kiss of death. They might just as well have called him a socialist, as far as today’s Republicans are concerned. It’s enough to make a guy want to switch parties.
Whaddaya think, George?