Cuomo and Packwood

I just got back from a talk by Senator Bob Packwood and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary and possible future New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo. The topic was supposed to be about what the 2004 election meant and where the country is going from there. None of that was particularly informative, Packwood opined that gay marriage was "a factor" in deciding the election, but not on how substantial a factor it was. I didn't take notes or anything, so I'm just going to try to paraphrase a few interesting points each made or stories they told.

One of Cuomo's points which is worth repeating was that the New York State legislature is currently debating whether or not New York state should have the death penalty, and it's getting no media attention at all. He illustrated the point about no media attention by asking the audience to name the important issue which the New York State assembly is currently debating. No one answered immediately, and death penalty was eventually the second or third answer the audience proffered. Next, he asked the audience if New York if New York state currently has the death penalty. The audience was split pretty evenly between yes/no/and didn't want to answer. The answer is no, and I got it wrong (that'll probably blow my credibility for a while). I was under the impression that New York State had reenacted the death penalty in 1994 when Pataki was elected, but had not executed anyone since sometime in early 70's. That part was right, but I missed the New York State Court of Appeals decision in June which found the current form of the death penalty unconstitutional under the state constitution.

For evidence, other than my ignorance, of the assembly death penalty debate not being in the news, I ran a couple of searches. A google news search on New York death penalty gets hits, but a quick scan shows very few of them are actually on point. Another search on Pataki death penalty assembly only fifteen relevant hits.

Packwood, a socially liberal (pro-choice, pro gay marriage) Republican, had quite a few interesting things to say. Gay marriage was actually a big topic of discussion, with both of them predicting it would be non-controversial in between twenty and forty years. When asked about people in politics he admired, he talked about his meetings with Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Following a 1982 massacre in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Shamir came to the United States and met with some Senators. Sen. Joseph Biden asked him how he felt about the massacre, in a somewhat accusatory manner. Shamir said he felt horrible about it, just like you (Biden) did. Then he said it was inappropriate for Biden to question him like this. Biden responded, "No it ain't," and then said something about the "bill" the United States has paid for Israel. Packwood said that Shamir responded, "we have fought, we have bled, we have died for our country, and we will fight, we will bleed, we will die for our country, whether or not you pay a bill." Packwood said that he was hugely impressed by Shamir's courage, since the U.S. does give Israel a lot of aid. The above is all a paraphrase of Packwood's telling, so it's third hand. Packwood did emphasize the word "ain't" though, it seemed to stick out in his mind that Biden used it. Also, this isn't meant to be (and I don't think it comes off as) an anti-Biden story.

They also each told stories about Daniel Partick Moynihan. Packwood said Moynihan had once tried to have a bill passed banning the word "reform" from appearing in the name of any bill. Packwood told a couple of other stories about Moynihan, who he seemed to have a deep admiration for. Cuomo told a story about how when he was managing his father's gubernatorial campaign, Moynihan's press secretary was Tim Russert. Apparently, Russert did a great Moynihan impression and would call people up and convince them he was Moynihan.

There was a small protest outside of the auditorium when I walked in. The protest was because of Packwood's sexual harassment while he was in the Senate. According to the flier they handed out, Packwood's sexual harassment involved at least nineteen victims. Along with the flier they gave out stickers with the slogan "I oppose sexual harassment," and I think other stickers with other slogans, though I'm not sure. I didn't count, but I'm fairly sure a majority of the audience was wearing one of those stickers. I know I was.

While I understand and agree with protesting to point out Packwood's misdeeds, the protesters also seemed to think that the people who were going to listen to the talk were doing something wrong. If that was there view, I disagree. I don't see how going to see someone speak communicates support for their views or acceptance of their past wrongdoing. For instance, if I went to go see Ted Kennedy speech, would I be committed to the view that he did nothing wrong in the Chappaquidick incident? Would going to see the Unabomber speak show support for his bombings or for his manifesto? It is entirely possible that I got the wrong idea, and the protest was just a useful reminder of the dangers of sexual harassment, in which case I apologize for saying anything bad about it. But I got the impression that the protesters thought there was something wrong with seeing the speech.