Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Money Talks In New York

Choosing the democratic route- through the people's representatives rather than the courts- New York State legalizes same-sex marriage, and the reaction was immediate and gleeful in several quarters.

Hollywood, predictably and understandably, was exultant:

"I can't stop crying.. The revolution is ours to fight for love, justice+equality. Rejoice NY, and propose. We did it!!!" -- Lady Gaga

"I'm thrilled about the news from NY. Marriage equality! Every day we get a little closer. What an amazing feeling." -- Ellen DeGeneres

"NEW YORK! I (heart) U! You're OFFICIALLY the coolest place on the planet!" -- Katy Perry

"Nice work, Gov Andrew Cuomo! Proud to be FROM NY!" -- Lindsay Lohan

"happy gays r here again !!!!!" --Rosie O'Donnell

"tonight we're all New Yorkers! Straight & gay alike, let's all celebrate marriage equality. The right side of history!" --Kathy Griffin

"Yay for Gay Marriage! NY, it's about time...jersey we're next! How you doin?" -- Wendy Williams

Excitedly, The New York Times editorialized

New York State has made a powerful and principled choice by giving all couples the right to wed and enjoy the legal rights of marriage. It is a proud moment for New Yorkers, thousands of whom took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate this step forward.

Maureen Dowd of the Times, grasping an opportunity to bash Obama on gay rights, wrote

Obama’s reluctance to come out for gay marriage seems hugely and willfully inconsistent with what we know about his progressive worldview. And it is odd that the first black president is letting Andrew Cuomo, who pushed through a gay-marriage bill in Albany on Friday night, go down in history as the leader on the front lines of the civil rights issue of our time.

The Washington Post editorialized, gushing

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who took office in January, made legalizing same-sex marriage a priority. He used the bully pulpit to garner support and harnessed the power and prestige of his office behind the scenes. A coalition of organizations conducted the largest grass-roots effort the state had ever seen..... as we learned in New York, legislation of this significance needs more than rhetorical hand-holding by the governor. It needs determined leadership.

Panting, the Post's Chris Cillizza declared

But, political strategists are forever looking toward the future and the next big thing — and Cuomo made a claim to that title by finessing passage of the gay marriage bill through the Republican-controlled state Senate. (Four Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to pass the bill.)

But the best- or worst- came from someone who, borrowing from a term the Governor's brother and ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo reportedly employed, tweeted "we're all Cuomosexuals today."

Count me out- I've never been a cuomosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that), nor even a Cuomophile. Eric Alterman explains

To see the plain truth of our political lives today—that “money talks and bullshit walks”—as one of those ABSCAM criminals so pithily put it, one need only look closely at the backstory to this (genuinely) historic moment. To win the necessary votes for passage, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his team turned not to Republican senators or their constitutents, but to their top-dollar donors. People like former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and the billionaire Paul Singer, who speaks proudly of the “wedding album of my son and son-in-law,” married in Massachusetts, and the hedge fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb who “had the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure.” Within days, Cuomo had $1 million in his Republican gay marriage fund and a “path to victory"....

Cuomo, himself, is a perfect symbol of the transition of American liberalism from an ideology focused on the standing of working people to one based on issues of social and cultural freedom that do not interfere with anyone’s ability to make money hand over fist without paying too much of it in taxes....

This inexorable march through America’s political institutions has largely been a ground game of paying politicians and winning public opinion—which has been trending both much more friendly to gay rights specifically as well as much more libertarian on all matters. When the numbers reached a sufficient plateau—60 percent in favor of gay marriage in New York—it became easier for a cautious, poll-driven politician like Cuomo to hop on board. That moment is still a ways off nationally; only 53 percent nationwide say they support gay marriage. (Barack Obama, it must be noted, happily accepted the campaign donations of over 600 wealthy gays last Thursday in Manhattan, but was not willing to take the leap into endorsing gay marriage.)

Amidst this moment of joy for so many, a transformation in the nature of American liberalism can be seen in the transition from one New York Governor Cuomo to the next. As one profiler of Andrew’s put it, “Mario was an FDR liberal (and child of immigrants) with an unyielding faith in the government’s power to improve people’s lives; Andrew is a product of the Nixon era, when that faith was tested and the government again had to prove its competence.” That’s a generous way of saying that while he is, with his party, progressive on social issues, Andrew Cuomo sucks up to money just about as energetically as his Republican opposition. His impressive leadership on gay marriage—where he put money to work for social liberal causes—has been matched by an equally intensive commitment to ensuring that the wealthy are not asked to make any special contributions to what used to be called “the public good.” When Cuomo proposed recently that New York would cap annual increases in the amount of property taxes collected annually by school districts and towns at 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, he tried to explain to the Old Man that the decision was “operational,” while same sex marriage, he insisted, was “at the heart of leadership and progressive government."

The same liberal Democrat who fights for gay marriage is presiding over a budget agreement that will cost New York City schools 2,600 teachers, 600 more than estimated, and lay off 1,000 city workers, many of whom work in health care for the poor, at a time when the need for both could hardly be greater. Cuomo, who one must sometimes remind oneself, is a Democrat, also fought tooth and nail to ensure the death of New York’s millionaire tax, at exactly the moment when its proceeds might have been able to prevent exactly the kinds of cuts described above. In his willingness to play “bulldog for the rich,” as Michael Powell puts it, he is distinguishable from Roger Ailes’ favorite politician, right-wing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie only in degree, rather than in kind.

There’s a lesson in all this: Yes, the arc of history bends, on occasion, in the direction of justice. But you had better be able to afford the admission price. Sadly the folk who had every right to feel both represented and inspired by the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo—the people who Bill Clinton said “work hard and play by the rules” —need not apply.

During the Cold War, George Will lamented that some conservatives "love commerce more than they hate communism." Now, with organized labor, the elderly, the poor and the middle class under assault unprecedented in several generations, a portion of the liberal elite has joined conservatives in loving money more than they love principle.



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