There’s official, socialized, dress-for-success, acceptable manners, know-all-the-right-people stuff, and then there’s the other—the uncouth.
There’s Andrew Cuomo and then there’s Carl Paladino.
The latter is a rude, nasty, semi-literate seeming buffoon. The former has, at various points in his career, been considered rude and nasty, but never a buffoon. Now he is smooth and controlled. In fact, one of his big career accomplishments is to have become smooth and controlled. So it must be irritating and confounding to have to even make the case against someone like Paladino, who doesn’t at all care about the most basic requirements of political style and etiquette.
Theoretically, Paladino doesn’t have a chance.
And yet he is already so much more acceptable in his grossness and loucheness, and fascinating for it, than he was even just a little more than a week ago.
Paladino is quite an original. He’s well beyond even the declared eccentrics in this race, the anti-masturbation Christine O’Donnell, in Delaware, or the start-your-own-militia Sharron Angle, in Nevada—and even the ultimate against-the-establishment star, Sarah Palin. They are, with a little critical interpretation, self-styled new voices, however inarticulate. Paladino is a proud thug.
His identity is all aggression and nastiness and pugnaciousness and know-nothing-ness. He is the personality type that would-be politicians have always struggled in heroic Pygmalion fashion to escape from. You could not be Carl Paladino and be a politician. Or at least you could not be Carl Paladino and be the face of politics. You could be in a backroom. Indeed, Carl Paladino is—or used to be—everybody’s great fear of what politics really is.
Now he’s out front—and only six points behind the entirely reconstructed, even artful, Andrew Cuomo.
Clearly, there’s a theme here about authenticity and not. Carl is the real thing and Andrew is a confection.
It is worth pointing out that, heretofore, the confection is what we’ve wanted. Not just because of the demands of media, but of basic civility, too: Politicians represent ritual and propriety as much as anything else.
Not this year.
It’s not even that they represent anger and disruption. More, they represent a punchline. Nobody takes Carl Paladino seriously. We laugh at, not with. Carl Paladino is a clown, everybody understands.
But in that sense, he’s not offensive, he’s liberating.
If I were Andrew Cuomo, I’d be confused about how to handle this, too.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
The biggest fight in politics is between the norm and something else.