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Who Is Carl Paladino?

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

The Republican nominee for governor of New York doesn't spend a lot of time talking about himself, which is both good and bad. It's good because, in truth, his surprise victory over the "establishment" favorite (and Conservative Party candidate) Rick Lazio had very little to do with his qualifications and agenda, and everything to do with his tea party-infused attacks on Albany, government and the powers that are. It's bad, of course, for precisely the same reason.

Is Carl Paladino actually qualified to be governor of New York?

Is he ready to actually govern -- as opposed to venting? Is he prepared to deal with the legislature, the bureaucracy, to make the best appointments, address the challenges facing the state? What are his thoughts about education, the environment, health care, entitlements, crime and urban problems? The issue is not whether anyone (including him) knows the answer to these questions but, more importantly, whether they care.

"Sending a message" is an old campaign strategy. But it is more often used by those who are certain to lose than by those who have a chance to win.

A new poll this week by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute stunned many political watchers by showing the seemingly invincible New York Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, only six points ahead of his unlikely Republican opponent. The poll of likely voters failed to measure how Lazio's presence on the conservative line might affect the contest, but it was enough to lead insiders to question the effectiveness of Cuomo's post-primary strategy, producing plenty of blind quote criticism that the attorney general needs to take his gloves off and create some distance between himself and the establishment critics of Paladino's qualifications. The fact that Paladino isn't qualified, it seems, is not enough to convince people not to vote for him. Quite the contrary.

On Wednesday, in what seemed like an expression of frustration as much as resolve, Cuomo said: "We're all angry, OK. What do you want to do? We can have an anger party, celebrate our anger. Or we can say, let's take that anger, let's take the energy, let's focus it and actually do something to correct the problem."

For now, at least, the "anger party" is surging.

Anger can be very useful in politics. It energizes people to vote. It motivates them to be involved. The problem facing Cuomo, and many Democrats this fall, is that however sterling their qualifications, "ability" is generating less enthusiasm than old-fashioned "anger."

Maybe it's time for some fear to address that anger.

Christine O'Donnell could win. Cuomo could lose. California could elect a Republican to replace stalwart Democrat Barbara Boxer. I'm not predicting a Democratic demise -- yet -- but if the most popular politician in New York (and that is Cuomo) is in trouble in a race against a guy who is all but unheard of, whose stump speech consists of off-the-cuff remarks without a hint of an agenda for governing, then it's about time for some honest-to-goodness high-test fear to match the real anger on the other side.

Are we really willing to turn the government over to those whose basic agenda is sending a message rather than fixing the problem? If your pipes were bursting at home, would you want someone to take a 9-iron to them, or would you look for an experienced plumber who might actually have some ideas about how to fix them? Why is politics the one area where it is assumed that high emotion and a total lack of experience are the magic ingredients for success?

I understand why people are angry, and why they would want to vote against what they see as the political establishment in this country. But what happens the day after, when the Carl Paladinos are expected to govern? By then, it will be too late to ask just who they are, and whether we can really trust them to fix the pipes. You can fire a bad plumber when you stop being angry. But once you vote, the party's over.


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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.    

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