Pundits have already commented on Governor Patterson’s astounding ineptness in managing to anger the three most powerful political families in New York State–the Kennedys, the Cuomos, and the Clintons–by his fumbling appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate. But what disturbs me the most is that Patterson blew the chance to appoint a card-carrying liberal to the Senate, at a time when liberal senators are an endangered species, with the most influential of them, Teddy Kennedy, fighting brain cancer. New York is one of the few remaining states in which a man or woman espousing progressive positions can still get elected, and so it was a waste to hand the seat to a conservative chameleon.
The story in today’s New York Times about her legal work for the tobacco industry confirms my view that she was the wrong choice. Tobacco companies were entitled to legal representation in their unscrupulous bid to suppress from the public their internal scientific studies showing a link between smoking and cancer. Fundamental to our judicial system is the idea that even the devil deserves a legal advocate. But Gillibrand did not have to choose to be the one to defend their dirty work.