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Winging your way through scandal on Pegasus' back

Democrat New York Governor David Paterson and wifeMichelle

Though they sometimes pull apart, politics and mythology have always been yoked -- especially in New York, which serves as the latest example of the Law of Pegasus.

For those unlucky enough to have missed a classical education (or not even lucky enough to have seen the latest 3-D blockbuster), Pegasus was the winged horse. Divine from birth, he soared through the skies, seemingly landing as a statue in front of many buildings in American downtowns.

Former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (father of the likely Democratic nominee this year, N.Y. Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo) told the story of a captured thief being brought before the king for judgment. There were several versions depending on the audience, but the core of the story remained the same.

A wily thief was captured and brought before a harsh king, who was ready to....

...sentence death. The thief claimed many skills and finally said if his life was spared, he would teach the royal steed to fly.

A dubious, but greedy, king offered the supplicant a bargain: “Teach my horse to fly and your life will be spared.”

“This is such a difficult task that it will take a year, even for me,” the thief replied. “Done,” said the king, “we will reconvene in a year.”

“What could you possibly have been thinking,” said the guard who led the thief to the royal stables. “You can’t possibly teach a horse to fly!”

The thief smiled. “In a year, I may die. In a year, the king may die. In a year, the horse may even learn how to fly.”

The political point is that an unknown future of possibilities is always better than a present disaster. When in doubt, buy time.

Two New York governors show the law of flying horse in action.

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, driven from office in 2008 by an Ashley Dupre prostitution scandal, was the subject of a front-page piece in the New York Times, part of his rehabilitation in this era of economic woes and  scandals. Spitzer, the former state attorney general who famously fought Wall Street practices and corruption, discussed a variety of topics (including his lack of enthusiasm for the younger Cuomo).

It wasn’t sex that pushed Spitzer from office, though. It was schadenfreude, the joy the political class felt over what was seen as his holier-than-thou attitude. Spitzer’s personal embarrassment from having his private life so publicly aired was just the spice for voyeurs of every stripe.

With Spitzer gone, it was the turn of David Paterson to become governor and take center stage in the scandalous world of New York government.

Paterson quickly acknowledged that he and his wife had sought comfort with other partners. But it was when Paterson had to face questions about whether he had obstructed justice in several investigations, that he, too, was in trouble.

Amid calls that he follow his predecessor into exile, Paterson held firm, bought some time. He eventually gave up his bid to be elected to a full gubernatorial term in his own right, but so far has remained in office, which, of course, is more than Spitzer could say.

So now, the entire kingdom must wait for the end of this year to see if Paterson does, indeed, teach the horse to fly.

-- Michael Muskal

Twitter.com/LATimesmuskal

Photo: Associated Press

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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