I met Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York State, a few weeks ago. Sidling up to him at a cash register in a Wall Street lunch hour joint, I said, “we miss you and we need you back.” He smiled and said, “they always find a way to get you, don’t they?” Spitzer became New York’s Governor after cultivating the image of a granite-jawed Attorney General who prosecuted Wall Street crimes. He was destroyed early in his Governorship after it was found that he frequently sought the services of prostitutes. The “they” to which he was referring was “Wall Street”, that amorphous shadow of financiers who own our politicians. Governor Spitzer was a threat to “them”, so he had to be destroyed. I usually don’t approach famous people but Eliot Spitzer, in my mind, symbolized a whole lot. Spitzer was what could have been. His story was the start of a long free fall of New York State politics that landed squarely in the lap of the horror show we now have for governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Andrew Cuomo ended 2011 one of the most popular governors in the country. His approval ratings are through the roof. Since becoming governor, he has successfully distanced himself from all of the flotsam and jetsam that usually defines New York State politics. He has kept his distance from the hopelessly dysfunctional New York State legislature, always seen as a den of corruption. He has publicly battled with New York City’s increasingly unpopular Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He has a last name that inspires confidence and nostalgia in New Yorkers. The Cuomo name is refreshing to New Yorkers after years of the bumbling leadership of David Patterson, who only became governor as a result of Spitzer’s disgrace. No doubt Andrew is getting pointers in political maneuvering from his father, who always tested which way the wind was blowing before spitting. More than anything else, Cuomo has benefitted from having the right name at the right time. He promised hope in a hopeless era of New York politics. Cuomo is New York State’s very own Obama.
Just like Obama, Andrew ran for executive office at a point when the sitting executive was none-too-popular. Obama promised hope and change through words. Andrew promised it with his last name. Both men ran as Democrats, leading Democratic voters to think that “change” meant fighting Democratic battles lying dormant for decades. Obama did this through fiery speeches vague on specifics. Andrew did this by reminding New York of his father, who used to fight some of those battles. Yet, both men have proven that their brand of change is more of the same. Rather than turning back the conservative gains of the past few decades, both executives have solidified and extended those gains. Obama’s work in this field is legendary: more undeclared wars, more surveillance and more handouts to corporations (including Obamacare). They have a Democratic face but, at the core, are identical to Republican policies that benefit corporations. It is the New Democratic Party, same as the Old but totally different from the Original.
And now Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, to be given this Wednesday, will be a Roman Triumph for the way of the New Democratic Party. In this speech, he will bring refreshing change by reciting a 20-year-old cant accusing schools and teachers of being unaccountable. Of course, he is talking about New York City’s failure to strike a deal with the teachers’ union (UFT) on evaluating teachers. He will appoint a commission (most likely with zero teachers) to come up with a proper evaluation process for teachers. Nothing will stop Andrew from Obama’s Race to the Top money. Here is the New Democratic Party, declaring war on public workers and public schooling in favor of pro-corporate reform. It is just like the Old and the same as the Republicans.
Andrew will also speak about a “foreclosure relief unit” which, according to the Daily News article, “will serve as an advocate to struggling homeowners.” It will “provide counseling and mediation services designed to help resolve mortgage issues and keep people in their homes.” Translation: instead of going after the corrupt foreclosure system that is stacked in favor of the banks to the point where they can intentionally lie and fudge paperwork to foreclose on people, we will make people feel better about being made homeless by pretending to be their advocate throughout the sham process.
Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech this Wednesday will be a paean to the New Democratic way. He is a fresh governor with great popularity and the right pedigree. There is no doubt that he has designs on the White House. Andrew is striking out on a new road in American politics that he believes will get him to the Presidency, the office that always eluded his father. It is the Obama juke move, one fake left and then a zip to the right. It represents the acceptance of corporate power and the reduction of all workers to peons.
I wonder if Eliot Spitzer was juking as well. Until the day I met him I imagined him as an imposing man with a Bill Cowher chin. But standing next to him I saw that he was much shorter and more frail-looking than he looked on television. He had a five o’clock shadow of grayish hair that obscured the famous jaw, making him look less steely and vigorous. Perhaps this represents the values of the Democratic Party as well. At one time it loomed large and just. Then Wall Street got its hands on it and it became a husk. I still miss Eliot Spitzer and he may have a future in politics yet. If so, it remains to be seen if he learned his lesson that only pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate politicians remain successful.