It’s Bash Bad Democrats Week on MaxSpeak. We have a target-rich environment. Today’s clay pigeon is Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.
We shouldn’t expect much of Democrats in the god-forsaken places of Redstate America. (Sorry, just look at whom you’ve sent to the U.S. Senate like, forever.) These days the best they can do is get elected by hook or crook and vote for a Democrat to be Senate majority leader or Speaker of the House. Elsewhere, however, we would like Democrats to be all they can be, in the liberal sense. I want to see Democrats push the envelope of what’s thought to be possible, rather than tacking to the center in order to maximize political support. People need to think differently, and leadership in that endeavor would be welcome.
If any place and any political office is ripe for this sort of adjustment, it is the governor of the deep blue state of New York. That’s why the machinations of Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu elaborated by Matt Stoller are worth some attention. (See also Curmudgucation and LOHUD.) The surprising New York City mayoral contest showed that the state is fertile ground for a progressive, populist shift.
Governor Andrew Cuomo rolls in the Clinton/Obama tradition. It’s not that he is no better than Republicans, or that he has done nothing. It’s that he could do more. We can applaud his moves on gay marriage, but the bar for endorsement should be higher than that. Everybody knows his centrism is motivated by presidential ambitions, if not his personal views as well, assuming he has some personal views. The people of New York are not obliged to subsidize his ambitions.
The best face you can put on this sort of political career track is that pragmatic, defensive politics are the only bulwark against Republican takeover and ensuing catastrophe. As I opened by acknowledging, in many places this is true, and it is at least arguable if we are talking about the White House, but New York doesn’t require pragmatism. A Republican couldn’t ruin New York. He or she can only occupy space there.
Defensive politics contains a malignant internal logic. By relying on clever deployment of conventional wisdom, it precludes the encouragement of changes in public opinion. Conventional wisdom supports terrible policies when it comes to budgeting, the welfare state, social insurance, public investment, climate change, and foreign policy, to name a few.
An example is Democrats’ perennial attack on Republican tax cuts for expanding the deficit. Deficit-reduction is usually bad policy. It has been used to justify the erosion of domestic public spending and attacks on Social Security, though never military spending, never tax cuts. By upholding this bankrupt fiscal doctrine, this folk wisdom, even in the absence of determined action on its behalf, the Administration leaves the notion to ripen and await the election of someone with the political wherewithal to exploit it with the most regrettable consequences.
The mission of a liberal opposition is to never be satisfied. Give credit where due, but then move on to new objectives. Maintain pressure to move leftward, otherwise witness political regress. Elevate substantive principle, threaten abstention of support for political leaders who fail to respond. Without the threat of abstention, there is no pressure on those in power to change. Promise to support them in the end no matter what, you might as well go home. The chief weapons besides negative publicity are primary campaigns and independent electoral campaigns.
So far Teachout and Hu are being good Democrats by going the primary route. I’ve never seen Hu in action. Teachout is very smart and very slick. She’s almost too good; it makes me a little suspicious. The fact remains, she is bucking the Cuomo machine, which automatically gets her points in my book. She won’t win, but she could be useful trouble for randy Andy.
I don’t begrudge the Working Families Party their deal with Cuomo and DiBlasio. I hope they get what they bargained for. But in New York there is room for another turn of the screw.