New York Gov. David Paterson put a delightful punctuation point at the end of the saga of who would fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the nation's newest secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, until a special election next year.
Not Caroline Kennedy, she of the long and near-royal line of U.S. politicians. Not state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, he of a slightly shorter elected bloodline.
Nope. Paterson picks U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, politically connected within the Empire State but a relative unknown beyond New York.
Here's how Tom Robbins, a columnist with the Village Voice, described her: A "42-year-old Reese Witherspoon knockoff, legally blonde, all giggles and tee-hees, boasting an Ivy League education. She's put her Dartmouth schooling to such good use that she holds a 100-percent rating from the National Rifle Association and a four-square stance in favor of the death penalty."
Call her the Democrat's Sarah Palin, at least in the "we didn't see that coming" sense.
Like I said, delightful.
The reaction from gun-control apologists, on the other hand, could be seen with the naked eye from space.
New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, swinging at every anti-gun pitch that the feisty host lobbed her direction. Paterson's pick is such an outrage, McCarthy said, that she will challenge Gillibrand in the 2010 primary to see who will serve the remaining two years of Clinton's original term.
"On the 15th anniversary of my husband's murder and my son's near death, New York state cannot have as its senator a person who is against gun control," said McCarthy, whose husband and son were among the victims of mass murderer Colin Ferguson, who opened fire on random, unarmed passengers on a Long Island commuter train in 1993.
Never mind that Gillibrand, an attorney and two-term U.S. representative from upstate New York – where someone who legally hunts animals isn't considered as being in league with Satan – has received kudos from bastions of liberal thinking such as the ACLU and the Americans for Democratic Action. She lines up on the left side of the ledger when it comes to stem-cell research, abortion and healthcare issues, but is a member of the centrist Blue Dog Democrat coalition.
Unlike McCarthy and her near all-consuming focus on ridding America of firearms, Gillibrand's interests are more wide-ranging.
And, unlike McCarthy, she's always been a Democrat.
McCarthy was a lifelong Republican until 1996, when she switched parties to run against a first-term GOP incumbent who had the audacity to vote in favor of repealing the federal assault weapons ban. While she has always served in elected office as a Democrat, McCarthy didn't get around to "quietly changing her party registration" until 2002, according to a New York Times story.
Gillibrand is being vilified by McCarthy and her kindred spirits because she dares to voice an opinion that mirrors what a majority of Americans think – that there are overlapping interests among those who champion gun rights and those who advocate for gun control. It's an opinion that McCarthy shared, at least temporarily, in 2007 when she sponsored the post-Virginia Tech shooting bill that requires states to automate and share criminal and mental health records with the federal background check database.
The NRA supported that strengthening of existing law, which was the first gun legislation passed by the U.S. House in a decade.
New Yorkers will have the opportunity in 2010 to decide whose voice will speak for the Democratic Party as the nominee for junior senator. Will it be centrist Gillibrand, or hard-left McCarthy, or a player yet to be named?
McCarthy can present one helluva passionate victim's statement, as could any American whose loved one was killed or injured by the criminal use of a gun. But that emotion too often clouds the clear thinking, rational judgment and common sense that a federal lawmaker should possess when considering laws that will affect all Americans.