It's not uncommon around here for conversations about politics to advance no further than who's running against whom. Advanced version: who's stabbing whom in the back.
But political talk with state Republican Chairman Ed Cox never stoops so low. As a student of history (and as President Richard Nixon's son-in-law, a witness to history), Cox puts things in perspective. So when the chairman chatted with the Politics Column a few days ago before attending Buffalo's social event of the season (the nuptials of Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy and bride Erin Baker), he did not disappoint.
Here are the thoughts of the New York GOP's historical observer/chief political operative on a few current topics:
*On Gov. Andrew Cuomo's economic development plan: It's tough even for the opposition leader to criticize Cuomo while the governor rides so high in the popularity polls. So he doesn't.
But he does recognize that every governor launches a plan to revitalize the upstate economy, and that plans – like governors – come and go. While he pronounces Cuomo's regional council concept "fine," he digs into history for a way to make it finer.
"You need someone to drive it; you need a Bob Moses," he said, referring to New York's controversial "master builder." "Whatever you think of him, he got things done."
Cox said Cuomo must do more than "hand out money." He likes the governor's "bottom up" initiatives, but thinks he should empower a supervisor as Gov. Al Smith empowered Moses.
"If it's just a council, it's just PR," he said.
*On fracking: He believes Cuomo's administration will eventually approve the natural gas recovery method that appalls environmentalists but is spawning thousands of new jobs in other states. He notes that while New York ponders, support businesses go elsewhere.
"I think it's going to get done," he said. "But unfortunately, the division headquarters and metal bending operations go to places like Pittsburgh and not Buffalo. If you're going to do it, you have to do it aggressively." The governor, Cox said, holds the political capital to approve a fracking program with appropriate safeguards.
*On the Senate coalition that semi-preserves a Republican majority: It may prove a strange animal, but it's a living, breathing animal. He calls the Independent Democratic Caucus that joined with the GOP "serious legislators." A few years ago, he added, Albany was incapable of building such a coalition. Now, at least it does something. "The system now puts forward a way to get things done. New York is governable. California is not."
*On Cuomo's alleged dalliance with Senate Republicans: "If I'm the chief executive, I'm happy to see something I can work with."
He believes the governor wants to cut taxes.
"That's where Republicans are," Cox said.
*On sustaining New York's Republican congressmen in a Democratic state: Working with House Speaker John Boehner's "Victory" program, Cox said the state party erected a "firewall" by losing only one congressional Republican (which he attributed to reapportionment). Even tea party members of Congress whom Boehner sometimes finds hard to control, Cox observed, will prove grateful.
"That helps make for a cohesive conference when you go out there and personally campaign," he said.
*On the looming fiscal cliff and President Obama: "For Obama, it's class politics. [His approach] may drive up the polls temporarily, but he's the president of the United States and he will be responsible for what happens. Give me one piece of legislation on which he's compromised. He doesn't know how to compromise. He's not leading now, and he's not sitting down with the speaker the way [President Ronald Reagan and] Tip O'Neill did."
*On the 2014 congressional elections: "You're going to see Democrats erode away from the president. They will be up for re-election, he won't."
On a candidate against Cuomo in 2014: For the moment – nothing.