The tragic success of Cuomo progressivism
Of all the emotions I expected to feel reading The New York Times’s account of this weekend’s gay pride parade, disappointment was not one of them.
Yet that’s exactly what I felt when I read this line:
many people in the parade crowd were grateful that Mr. Cuomo, who was not considered an early champion of gay marriage, became one of its strongest advocates, and some said they hoped his successes in Albany would propel him toward the White House.
Cuomo ’16 already? Liberals are beginning to sell themselves very, very short.
It’s true that marriage equality in New York was a rare progressive success, but it was also an inevitable one. In a state where Democrats have traditionally held a roughly 20 percent advantage in party identification and gay marriage is supported by an estimated 58 percent of the population, the eventual passage of a gay marriage law was never really in doubt. As one friend described her reaction to the news: “I’m surprised they hadn’t legalized it already.”
But Cuomo’s political success, and his apparent anointment as a progressive hero, is indicative of a larger failing in the liberal movement. Cuomo is the new breed of Democrat, one who follows a simple, two point strategy.
- 1. Adopt a conservative approach to budgetary and economic matters.
- 2. Secure a high profile progressive victory on a social issue (but only after one’s position gains a level of mainstream support).
Cuomo’s approach to governing means quick passage of budgets and some deficit “victories” in the form of large scale spending cuts. Potential criticism from the left is then quickly neutralized by a little social red meat. Obama used a similar approach when he extended the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but repealed DADT shortly afterwards to deflect criticism from his base. The strategy abandons society’s most disadvantaged, but it also works, at least when one’s goal is popularity: Cuomo is polling at 61 percent approval right now, and his disapproval is in the teens.
The strategy’s effectiveness is what is so disappointing. The long overdue victory for gay rights appears to be enough to make New York liberals forget the fact that Cuomo slashed school aid by $1.3 billion. They now seem willing to overlook Cuomo’s stubborn rejection of any sort of tax increase, and his decision to instead balance the budget with cuts that will disproportionately affect the state’s poor. With one victory, Cuomo is king, regardless of his acceptance of campaign contributions from the likes of David Koch and his attacks against unions that make Chris Christie proud.
It’s representative of today’s political climate that Cuomo is audacious enough to claim that his New York is the progressive capital of the nation. He’s wrong of course. Progressivism, weaker now than it has been in years and unsure of its historical commitment to the poor, is far too divided to have a single capital. But a state that legalizes gay marriage more than seven years after Massachusetts did, a state that drags its feet in implementing the Affordable Care Act and approves steady and unreasonable fee increases for its public universities, all while sparing its considerable millionaires and billionaires from any sort of sacrifice, certainly doesn’t deserve the mantle.
Cuomo likes to call himself a progressive who is broke, but if he continues to ignore those with the smallest voice and the least influence in Albany, he’ll just be a progressive who is morally broke.