The torch has been passed from Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now officially the worst Democrat in the Universe.
I had high hopes for his father, Mario. Pére Cuomo was poised to contest Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992, but he lost his nerve at the eleventh hour. The son has the virtue of never having raised anyone’s hopes.
In the endless arguments between Democratic moderates and those to their left, the constant exhortation from the center is to confine dissent to primaries, then pull together in the general to beat this year’s satanic Republican. Those who have the effrontery to go third party are cast as history’s greatest monsters.
So what is the lesson learned from the leadership of Mr. Cuomo? In New York State and a few other places, there is the noble, labor-liberal organization known as the Working Families Party. (When I hear the expression ‘working families,’ I get visions of toddlers swinging hoes, toiling in the potato fields, but I digress.) Their strategy is to support Democrats in general elections on their own separate ballot line. The hope is that the promise of their support will encourage the mainline candidates to respect and even take up some of their political causes.
It should go without saying that no Democratic candidate in New York or most other places has a prayer of winning a general election without liberal support. One might think that this would lend the WFP some serious leverage, but one would be wrong. The leverage of the WFP depends on their ability to threaten to withhold support in a general election, but that is not how they roll. They are congenitally predisposed to pull behind the Democrat who wins the nomination.
Enter Zephyr Teachout, brilliant lady law professor with spotless liberal credentials (but not too liberal!) and the cool name, blessed with awesome campaign trail kung-fu. Zephyr had the bright idea to contest for the gubernatorial nomination as the champion of the WFP. The WFP held a nominating convention and said, we don’t need no champion, we’d rather remain the crazy aunt in the fifth-floor walk-up. The WFP, not without the strong urging of erstwhile anti-inequality champion Bill DeBlasio, nominated Cuomo at their convention. To garner the endorsement, the governor made a number of commitments pertaining to WFP issues. Unfortunately, nobody thought they needed to make the governor promise not to try to destroy the WFP.
Zephyr decided to run in the primary anyway and did well, thank you very much. She got over 30 percent of the vote. So fine, now it’s time for everybody to pull together, right? The WFP behaved themselves. They put Cuomo on their ballot line. How does the governor repay them?
The governor fabricates an utterly fake political party called the “Women’s Equality Party” with its own ballot line to leech off WFP votes. (WEP, not WFP — get it?) The WFP will need a certain minimum number of votes to retain its ballot status. So in return for their support, Mr. Cuomo has connived to drive them off future ballots.
Cuomo staged a rally for the mythical WEP featuring an appearance by Hillary Clinton. The WEP public relations effort includes rich female celebrities (Anna Wintour, Christie Brinkley, Lena Dunham, etc.) and an array of Democratic liberals who have forfeited any claims to progressive politics. Note, they could easily support Cuomo by supporting a vote for the WFP, who is included on their ballot line. Support for Cuomo’s ersatz party is really a decision to block any leftward evolution of politics in New York.
Cuomo, Clinton, and the other ex-liberal WEP endorsers thereby surrender the usual argument they trot out in response to liberal criticism — “We agree with your goals, we disagree on tactics argle bargle . . . ” They do not agree with liberal goals, even modest ones. If they did, they would not support Cuomo’s straight-out effort to sabotage the WFP. If they were good Democrats, they would criticize Cuomo for deliberately endorsing enough Republicans to tilt the State Senate to Republican control, thereby blocking Democratic pressure from the entire state legislature for more progressive policies. The grip of the 1% on the New York State Democratic Party goes deep.
The choices at this stage are not easy. New York liberals could suck it up and vote WFP in defense of their ballot line. Or they could bail on the Democrats and vote for Howie Hawkins of the New York Green Party. It’s hard to pass up a chance to vote for a guy named ‘Howie.’ Hawkins cannot win the election, but he could put a dent in Cuomo’s victory. He could also put a dent in the WFP vote and help them lose their ballot line. The latter would not upset the Democratic establishment, since that’s exactly what they’re up to themselves.
The difficulty is that a Hawkins protest vote weakens the WFP. Is this a problem? It isn’t if you think the WFP isn’t worth strengthening, because the Democratic Party is not worth supporting. A commitment to the WFP is a commitment to stay in the Democratic Party and fight for its leadership. But the Democratic Party leadership, liberal as all get-out by some measures, is not willing to tolerate well-behaved dissent. So why stay with it?
The obvious answer is, don’t give New York away to the G.O.P. This is some reason to discount the dangers of this. We’re not talking United States Supreme Court/invading the Middle East here. New York has survived Republicans before. The state survived Pataki, the city survived the loathsome Giuliani and the moderate Bloomberg.
The simple solution is, don’t try to be tricky and outsmart yourself. Vote for what you’re really for. If you’re for the Green Party platform, vote for it. Don’t be a potted plant. As the old saying goes, if you vote for what you don’t want, you’re sure to get it. The WFP might survive a good third party showing. It might even benefit from it. If it can’t, maybe it’s not the best vehicle to move New York politics to the left. The other reason to vote Green is to punish Cuomo. He deserves it. It could put some sand in the gears of any presidential campaign he might contemplate. That would be Good For America too.
There’s some funny stuff in The Nation to the effect that voting for Cuomo will “pressure Cuomo.” That’s a little too zen for me. Kudos to the magazine for allowing Executive Editor Richard Kim to dissent with a case for Hawkins.
Here’s hoping somebody changes his name to Andy Como and runs for governor. If he (or she) does, I can promise the support of the Afro-Jewish Peoples Party.