With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I was theNatural. I made a pledge, a pledge with teeth, not to carry waterfor the special interests. In a spirit of bipartisanship I reachedacross the aisle and found common ground, while building support atthe grassroots and netroots levels. With straight talk, I fought ashard as I’d ever fought in my life for working families to keep ourchildren safe.
I was a rising star with a big tent and a clear mandate. Whileothers bogged down in cross-party sniping, I triangulated, workingboth ends to provide much-needed relief to our vanishing middleclass. With a clear road map to real change, I put the pocketbookconcerns of the voters first while saying no to the naysayers. Theresult was a bi-directional win.
Perhaps it was hubris to touch the third rail of American politics.I freely admit my Achilles’ heel was that I ignored the elephant inthe room. But I could not let a rogue actor continue to thumb hisnose at the international community, while handing money hand overfist to the same old tunnel vision and short-term thinking. This isnot about politics; it goes to who I am. To understand my decision,you’d have to go back to my recently discovered Jewish ancestorMadam Valdez, who arrived on the Mayflower. Those are the kind ofdeep roots and local values I brought to the Capitol. At a hastilycalled prayer breakfast, I consulted my deeply held beliefs, andmistakes were made.
Do these youthful errors in judgment rise to the level ofindiscretions? Many say they do. However, I do have my defenders.It’s felt that my frankly well intentioned efforts were made withthe best interests of the American people at heart. In any event,the political buzz was that I’d shot myself in the foot, and whileI strongly disagree, I accept the findings.
Some claimed my admission was too little too late. I tried to leadthe horse to water, but it was impossible to herd all the cats weneeded to get community buy-in for my first one hundred minutes.The old guard turned this non-issue into the camel’s nose under thetent, and as the slippery slope reached critical mass, I was facedwith a Hobson’s choice. Let us make perfectly clear up front thatthere were no easy answers; on that we can all agree. But I refusedto take any option off the table.
Before long, it was clear that my hard work to move beyond businessas usual was a non-starter. My opponents in the “loyal” oppositiongrumbled that I’d not only shot myself in the foot but shot myhunting partner in the face. The high-tech lynching they had inmind for me was clearly rejected by the American people, butunfortunately, these guardians of the status quo kept reading theirold tired drumbeat off the same page. I concede that many honestAmericans may have built consensus with some of the well meaningbut misguided proposals of those in the pockets of big-moneylobbyists. Unfortunately, a few bad apples decided to launch a spincampaign claiming that the fish was rotting from the foundation up.A charm offensive ensued. I decided it was time for a coursecorrection.
But at the end of the day, my new slate of initiatives was inmeltdown mode. The dog that previously didn’t bark now wouldn’thunt. My gaffe morphed into a climbdown as I stumbled across thefourth, fifth and sixth rails of American politics. Instead ofwalking back the cat, I had jumped the shark. Where once I had beena dark horse, I was now a wingnut. The last straw that broke thecamel’s back left my platform for clean politics in a lockbox. MySister Souljah moment came during a perfect storm that wasunprecedented in its magnitude, just as my political star wasbeginning to ebb. It was Me-gate.
Should I have gone out all guns blazing? Some would answer in theaffirmative. But the odds were always going to be very long for abattle of David and Goliath. And with so many Goliaths in thefield, the fact remains that in the final analysis, I concludedthat due to circumstances beyond our control we simply could notsubject the American people to a bruising showdown.
Since leaving office under a cloud, I’ve been busy resurrecting mytarnished image from the ashes, by helping our very poorest. No onecan fail to be impressed, indeed astonished, by my stunningly freshmemoir (well worth reading just to follow the wide swath of myhumane and encyclopedic wisdom), a book that can only be describedas a life’s work.
I’m down but not out. The voters didn’t send me here just tocontinue the politics of soundbites and pandering. I’m ready tokeep fighting the entrenched tide of mud-slinging and restore hopeto the people of this nation. Will Me-gate bring me down, or do Ihave the right stuff to be the next Comeback Kid? All I can say is:I ain’t no ways tired.
Tim Cavanaugh isweb editor of The Times’ editorial page.
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