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Monday, November 19, 2007

New York state of mind

It's unsettling that top candidates come from that 'provincial' place

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

It's time to carefully weigh the likely possibility that the next president will be from New York, and is that what the rest of us really want?

If the polls are an accurate crystal ball (they're not intended to be), New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani the Republican. By this time next year, the nation could be facing the certainty of a New Yorker as boss man or lady. If that isn't bad enough, chew on this: The name of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg keeps showing up as a possible independent candidate. That would be three New York candidates; now if that doesn't give the rest of America the willies, what will?

It seems like we're always talking about New Yorkers as presidential and vice presidential candidates, simply because there are so many voters there. Franklin Roosevelt. The immortal Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, New York governors who thought they had a chance to be president, save for the voters not thinking so. The legendary Bill Miller. But I can't recall a time when both candidates were from New York.

I find it curious that American voters may have to choose between two New Yorkers and it has received little, if no attention, from the coastal media. Maybe they think the rest of us won't notice. Maybe they don't care whether the rest of us notice. After all, New York is the Center of Everything (followed at a respectful distance by the District of Columbia and a great distance by everyone else), so the rest of us should be glad that someone from New York would be sitting in the Oval Office.

(By the way, we flatlanders cannot accept the suggestion that Clinton is one of us because she was raised in suburban Chicago, no more than we could accept the assertion that she's really a good ol' girl from Arkansas. When forced to declare her loyalty to the Chicago Cubs or New York Yankees, she -- what else? -- triangulated. I'd like to hear how she would answer the question: "Where are you from?")

Back to my point: Regional politics always has played a role in presidential elections from the republic's very beginning when New England commercial and shipping interests and the South's agrarian and slavery interests were at each other's throats. Regionalism is just one of the things that has divided American politics. Others include big state versus small state. Protestant/Catholic. Liberal/Conservative. Rural/Urban. Nativist/Immigrant. Populist/Establishment. Free trade/ Protectionist. Gold standard/Silver standard.

Of course, after Thursday's debate, we can add a few more: Asbestos pants suit versus guy trousers; cliche versus bromide; platitude versus banality. Nonsensical "choices" (Just answer "yes" or "no," host Wolf Blizter demanded) such as whether human rights are more important than national security. By the time it was over, I had little more information than before it started about where they all stood on, for example, universal health-care insurance, other than they all thought it was kinda important.

So, with all the debate's profundity (the upcoming Republican debate won't be any better), why can't the candidate's hometown or home state be an issue? If New Yorkers don't appreciate that it's a legitimate issue, they should ask themselves: How would they like it if their choice for president came down to two or three candidates from Chicago or Illinois. Even for those of us here, the thought staggers. President Richard M. Daley, Rod Blagojevich or Todd Stroger? Our ex-mayor, Jane Byrne?

The difficulty, of course, would be to find a local Republican to put on the GOP ticket. Former Gov. George Ryan would have to run from prison. GOP leadership here is so absent that they'd have to scrounge around in the Illinois legislature for someone. Wait, the Democrats already have done that.

So, it is fair to ask: Are Clinton and Giuliani the best that the nation has to offer? Is it provincial of anyone outside of New York to raise the issue, when New York itself is provincial? Or is it just a stereotype that New York is provincial? Is it a sure sign of a rube to suggest that New York, itself, is provincial? Isn't the hometown question at least as important as "who won the debate?" Or the degree to which the male candidates criticized Clinton? Or whether the debate "drew blood"? Or all the other meaningless tripe that seems to surround these events, which have become such a waste of time?

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