Shamelessly spoiling what looked good

It was in 1980 that we saw one of the fabled political careers in New York come to an inglorious end, with the defeat in the elections that year of the venerable Sen. Jacob Javits. Javits, a liberal-leaning Republican (when it was still possible to find a few of those), had chosen to run on the Liberal Party’s line in the general election, after Alfonse D’Amato had challenged and defeated him in a Republican primary. Afflicted with AMS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Javits, rather than bow out after failing to get his party’s nod, chose to scramble the electoral picture, in the process pretty much denying Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman the opportunity to succeed him in the Senate, when the split vote facilitated D’Amato’s win. Like it or not, New York would be the beneficiary of three terms of D’Amato until Chuck Schumer ousted him in 1998.

Over the course of his life in politics, Javits had been always a well respected figure. Yet for some reason, in that closing chapter he seemed not very mindful of the effects on his overall image of traveling a path that was quite certain to be perceived as acting not in the best interests of the people he had served for so long, but himself. So it always is when some self-absorbed huckster (not a label credibly applicable to Javits) opts to introduce spoiler tactics into election war games.

We had such a script unfold in this year’s midterm elections and, with Democrats needing all the help they could get, who knows, maybe their small majority in the Senate could have been augmented by one with a victory in Florida. Instead, a form of bluster emanating from a politician in full galloping-ego mode, made it fairly easy for the Tea Party-backed Marco Rubio to come out on top there.

Reports circulated as the campaign wound down that either Obama administration people or former President Clinton or both had tried to prevail on Rep. Kendrick Meek to withdraw from the race to give Charlie Crist a better shot at stopping Rubio. In macho fashion, Meek went for a stonewall response to whatever may have come to him by way of overtures to quit. In a perfect world, of course, no entreaties would have been necessary. If selfishness weren’t the biggest motivating factor here, doing the decent (and sensible) thing would have come quite naturally.

Crist was the sort of centrist Republican governor of Florida who became persona non grata for many in his own party because he gave President Obama a warm welcome to the state and spoke positively about what the administration’s stimulus package would do for Florida. For that he was so vehemently blackballed, a photograph of him embracing the president became prime campaign fodder in Rubio’s bid to become the GOP/Tea Party nominee in the contest. The high-voltage hate steaming from the far right evidently drove home to Crist that this was company in which he didn’t belong, leading to his decision to run as an independent.

Given that kind of narrative lead-in to the general election, Meek should have required no prodding to get into dialogue with Crist about an accommodation. Crist had been sidelined by the GOP because of his display of civility toward the president, for heaven’s sake! Wasn’t this reason enough for a Black congressman aspiring to get into the Senate to engage in constructive conversation about abandoning a hopeless chase and focusing instead on how best to be supportive of this president?

Any standard-issue tripe coming from Meek, that he believed he had a shot at winning a Senate seat from Florida, should be treated with the contempt it deserves. Meek had no chance at getting elected for the very reason that former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, in two attempts, wasn’t about to topple Sen. Jesse Helms in North Carolina. Or that Tom Bradley was unable to parlay his popularity as mayor of Los Angeles into a successful run for governor of California. Even if Meek began his quest harboring some twisted notion that he could somehow beat the odds, certainly the writing would be on the wall, even for a dreamer, well before we got anywhere close to Nov. 2.

Meek could spin this any which way (or maybe, pompous as he appears to be, he’d rather not go there), but the bottom line is, here was a demonstration of renegade behavior for which one would be hard pressed to arrive at rationale that was the least bit flattering. Every so often we get reminded of the sharp distinction between the freewheeling American style practice of party politics and the structural discipline of the Westminster model. Meek’s conduct was one instance that cried out for party discipline of the toe-the-line kind.

Even within the confines of the system in which Meek operates, there’s essentially nothing untoward about having honest disagreement with the party leadership on a given issue. As elected representative of a congressional district, taking exception to a particular action of the administration or congressional majority is clearly an option Meek is free to exercise. How he chose to respond, however, to the goings-on in Florida’s senatorial election, was a callous, mean-spirited diss of both the president and the Democratic Party to which he supposedly belongs. It just seems that no democratic system anywhere should be giving a pass to treachery on that order.