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Don't Buy It: Inevitable Comparisons Between Spitzer and Obama

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You know they're going to come, and lots of people are going to talk about it. The current governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who ran on change, good ethics, and taking back Albany from the state GOP, is reportedly tied to a prostitution ring. It's early yet, and Gov. Spitzer has not yet explained his connection (though allegedly, we could refer to him as "Client 9"), but the image of an idealistic Democratic leader running on change and cleaning up after the incumbent is something the floundering Republican party will eat up like their favorite dessert then regurgitate right into New York attack ads.

Don't buy it.

Besides this most recent gigantic screw-up, Gov. Spitzer (for whom I, in full disclosure, cast a vote) has had all kinds of fun problems since taking office. (Though I felt that driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants was a good idea. Governor Bill Richardson explains.) To put it bluntly, he has not delivered on his promises of change.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama continues to spread the gospel of hope (and change). But Spitzer and Obama are very different politicians. Unlike Spitzer, who really stuck himself out there as a "f***ing steamroller," Obama is a much humbler figure who does not make such claims. He, unlike his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (coincidentally, of New York), will not even presume he is the candidate until he is actually the candidate. Bottom line: Obama and Spitzer are very different people.

But here are excerpts from Spitzer himself when he ran for governor (from TNR, via GregsOpinion.com):

One of the keys to solving the problems of New York is to make state government more responsive and accountable. Right now, New York government is all about partisanship and gridlock. We're not doing the things we need to do to generate good paying jobs, safe neighborhoods and excellent schools. The system is broken. The state is facing a crisis.

I want to fix what's broken. It's what I do best. I bring people together whether they like it or not and we tackle complex problems -- not with band-aid solutions, but with major reform and real change. We did it in the financial industry and other sectors and we can do it in government. I'll bring new energy and resolve to the task of transforming state government and turning around the state economy.

And Obama (from BarackObama.com):

I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours. (BarackObama.com homepage)

If I am the nominee of this party, I will not allow us to be distracted by the same politics that seeks to divide us with false charges and meaningless labels. In this campaign, we will not stand for the politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon. (San Antonion, TX, March 4, 2008)

These are the Americans who need real change -- the kind of change that's about more than switching the party in the White House. They need a change in our politics -- a leader who can end the division in Washington so we can stop talking about our challenges and start solving them; who doesn't defend lobbyists as part of the system, but sees them as part of the problem; who will carry your voices and your hopes into the White House every single day for the next four years. And that is the kind of President I want to be. (Janesville, WI, February 13, 2008)

You could easily say that this is simply what politicians say when they are campaigning against an incumbent with whom they disagree -- "I want to change what's there, so put me there instead." But even Obama said in the Janesville speech: "I realize that politicians come before you every election saying that they'll change all this. They lay out big plans and hold events with workers just like this one, because it's popular to do and it's easy to make promises in the heat of a campaign."

After all, Sen. John McCain said after winning the Republican primary in New Hampshire: "[W]e're going to send the same message we did [in 2000]: change is coming."

The point is, it's pointless to compare Spitzer and Obama by comparing their campaigns. They're politicians. They all have the same message: "The other choice sucks. Pick me instead. I'm totally awesome. You won't regret it." In Spitzer's case, we do. But if we assumed that all our politicians are going to ultimately let us down, why should we bother voting?