Governor Cuomo is shouting again. It must be time for reelection.
Queen Victoria complained of William Ewart Gladstone that he “speaks to Me as if I was a public meeting.” Andrew Cuomo has the opposite problem: He addresses public meetings as if trying to convince a recalcitrant octogenarian that the fire in his bedroom means he really, seriously has to leave. Never have so many friendly faces been so vigorously barked at by a man saying so little. In his mind, Cuomo is Pericles. Outside of it, he’s late-90s Al Pacino reading a bargain-basement script. “We’re not going to make America great again,” he bellowed this afternoon, to audible gasps. “America was never that great.”
Cuomo is everyone and nobody all at once. “I am a Muslim,” he proposed last January, provoking widespread consternation. During the same speech he also became “Jewish,” “black,” “gay,” “disabled,” and “a woman seeking to control her health and her choices.” Conspicuously missing from his list was the one self-descriptor that explained his overzealous schizophrenia: “I am a white guy running for office in the Democratic party in 2018.”
Cuomo’s shape-shifting can take on a Python-esque mien. Attempting earlier in the year to draw a distinction between himself and President Trump, Cuomo launched squarely into the rehearsal of a one-man Four Yorkshiremen sketch. “I’m an immigrant,” he yapped, while keeping a straight face and hoping wildly that nobody could read his last name. Then, per the rules of the game, he upped the ante. “I’m undocumented,” he continued. “You want to deport an undocumented person, start with me, because I’m an undocumented person.” Perhaps, having been inspired by the ambition of this declaration, someone in the crowd shouted, “You were lucky!” or perhaps Cuomo saw the specter of Cynthia Nixon hovering sternly behind the TelePrompter. Either way, his peroration took the cake. “I was,” he explained, “raised by poor immigrants from South Jamaica.”
Try and tell the young people today that . . . and they won’t believe ya’.
What does Cuomo profess to believe in? That depends. Is he trying to annoy Bill DeBlasio, or is he trying to inoculate himself against a primary challenge from DeBlasio’s ascendant wing of the party? If the former, he’s against a “millionaire’s tax” and a hike in the minimum wage, in favor of lifting caps on charter schools, and utterly convinced that the subway is mostly New York City’s problem. If the latter, he’s suddenly in favor of banning plastic bags, on board with legalizing marijuana, and champing at the bit to restore voting rights to felons. If the father was Hamlet, the son is Janus. Nature hath framed a strange fellow in Albany.
Perhaps it is more fruitful to ask what Andrew Cuomo is dead set against, the most obvious answer to which is ‘people who oppose Andrew Cuomo.’
Perhaps it is more fruitful to ask what Andrew Cuomo is dead set against, the most obvious answer to which is “people who oppose Andrew Cuomo.” Given his hardscrabble South Jamaican past and hyper-intersectional identity, one might have suspected that the man had developed some sympathy for people on the margins. Alas, one would have been wrong. Among the people whom the governor has declared “unwelcome” in New York are pro-lifers, advocates of the Second Amendment within the Bill of Rights, and religious traditionalists who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. (You’d think, being a part-time Muslim, Cuomo would spot a problem there.) Such individuals, Cuomo has decreed, are not only non grata; they are “not who New Yorkers are.” Or, to put it in the terms Cuomo’s party likes to use in the broadsheets, they have been “erased” from their home, their “lived experiences” sent swiftly and unceremoniously to Elba.
When Cuomo decides he dislikes you, you’d better watch out. “If I could have put the NRA out of business,” he said recently, “I would have done it 20 years ago.” And boy is he trying. In July, the NRA confirmed that New York was trying to strangle its viability by denying it access to the American financial system — about as clear a case of viewpoint discrimination as is possible to imagine. Of the unions that are considering backing his primary opponent, Cuomo explained: “If unions or anyone give money to any of these groups, they can lose my number.” As for pro-lifers, Cuomo wants it known that their appeals to the Constitution-as-written will not be tolerated in Albany. If Roe v. Wade is reversed, he has promised that he’ll sue! No doubt he’ll take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
And if he does, his signal-to-noise ratio will be as dispiritingly familiar as it is in all his other public pronouncements, for if we are honest with ourselves we must acknowledge that there is not much there beyond the fireworks and the indignation. With the notable exceptions of Winston Churchill and the younger William Pitt, the scions of prominent figures almost always disappoint, and Andrew Cuomo has most definitely disappointed. On his watch, New York has become the most abandoned state in the Union, dropping behind Florida in the state-by-state population charts; its business climate has stalled out at 49th in the nation; its average cost of living is around the same as California’s; its residents remain the most highly taxed in the country; and, most pathetically of all, the attempt to remedy these ills by spending huge gobs of cash has turned out exactly as one might have expected.
“America was never that great,” Andrew Cuomo sighed today, with ill-deserved sprezzatura. If so, perhaps it is time for him to step out of the way and let another family take a turn at changing it for the better. Perhaps a guy who was raised by a poor single mother in Yonkers — and who doesn’t need to play dress-up to cast himself at the margins.