The New York Times editorial board, with great pride in its own high-mindedness, has refused to endorse Andrew Cuomo's campaign for renomination as governor of New York in the upcoming Democratic primary. As the Times' reporters have amply documented, Andrew Cuomo is, in his role as a self-appointed champion of clean politics, a gutless fraud at best, and at worst a crook. Having sworn to rid Albany of its toxic and comical culture of gross corruption, he promptly and comically corrupted his own reform effort. The Times editorial board says so—that Cuomo "broke his most important promise."
Therefore the Times is urging voters to sit back and let Cuomo win reelection. "[W]e have decided not to make an endorsement for the Democratic primary on Sept. 9," the editorial board writes.
That is, the Times is unwilling to endorse the idea of voting for someone to actually defeat Cuomo. The governor has an opponent in the primary, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, but the Times does not support her. Why? Teachout, the Times writes:
is a national expert on political corruption and an advocate of precisely the kind of transparency and political reform that Albany needs. Her description of Mr. Cuomo as part of a broken system "where public servants just end up serving the wealthy" is exactly on point, but we decline to endorse her because she has not shown the breadth of interests and experience needed to govern a big and diverse state.
In other words, Zephyr Teachout can't replace Cuomo as governor because she is not already the governor.
It is true that Teachout is not an experienced politician. The experienced politicians in New York State are hacks and criminals. That is the situation that the New York Times editorial board would like you to believe it cares about.
Yet the Times will not back the nomination of someone who comes from outside of the state's culture of political corruption—not some reckless crank, a goldbug or anti-vaccinationist or animal-rights activist, but a degree-holding product of Yale and Duke, a former law clerk, a person who works full-time at understanding the process of political reform.
What other credentials would the Times ask a political reformer to have? What makes Teachout a quixotic candidate, while Cuomo—who would not be the governor of New York if his father had not been the governor of New York—gets taken seriously?
I note here that my wife, who is also a law professor, has donated to the Teachout campaign. We are friendly with Teachout's running mate, the lieutenant governor candidate and Columbia law professor Tim Wu. This is less a disclosure than an acknowledgement that the political process exists—that when people find one candidate more congenial than another, they support that candidate's campaign and go out and vote for that candidate and try to get that candidate elected to office.
That is not the way the New York Times editorial board perceives the political process. The Times argues instead that Andrew Cuomo's reelection must be considered a foregone conclusion:
Here's how we see it: Realistically, Governor Cuomo is likely to win the primary, thanks to vastly greater resources and name recognition. And he'll probably win a second term in November against a conservative Republican opponent. In part, that's because issues like campaign finance rarely have been a strong motivator for most voters. Nonetheless, those who want to register their disappointment with Mr. Cuomo's record on changing the culture of Albany may well decide that the best way to do that is to vote for Ms. Teachout.
Here is a good time (it is always a good time) to remember that in 2009, the citizens of New York City came within 51,000 votes of throwing then-mayor Michael Bloomberg out of office, despite the fact that the entire political-opinion apparatus treated his challenger, city comptroller Bill Thompson, as obviously and hopelessly doomed. Elections are the mechanism by which we set the terms of our politics, if people vote in them.
What might happen if the voters choose someone naive and inexperienced to be the state's chief executive? Will the state be badly governed, while the canny, corrupt elements have free rein in Albany? How would we tell the difference?
Nevertheless, the Times sounds a warning:
More broadly, it is not clear how Ms. Teachout, with limited executive and political experience, would be able to get any of her best ideas past the snarling self-interest of the Legislature, which respects only cunning and raw power.
As he has repeatedly shown, Mr. Cuomo knows how to bend lawmakers to his will, especially when it serves his political interest. But he has repeatedly failed to do so when it comes to cleaning up Albany.
So rather than risk the possibility of failed reform, voters should resign themselves to the certainty of failed reform. On a practical level, then, the Times' attitude toward corruption in Albany is identical to Cuomo's: Accept the fact that nothing will ever change.
Here we have the liberal New York Times: Disapprove of Cuomo, but don't do anything about it. This comes from the same falsely brave place as the editorial page's decision to stop opposing the legalization of marijuana, now that it is a foregone conclusion. Or as its endorsement of Christine Quinn in the last mayoral primary, on the grounds that Bill de Blasio's more ambitious policy reforms might be "smashed on the rocks of Albany" (as his plan to tax the rich for pre-K eventually was, by Cuomo).
It's possible to read self-loathing into today's non-endorsement, the dread of the bright and well-credentialed opinion-eunuchs of the Times at the thought of how incompetent they would be if entrusted with any genuine responsibilities. Or maybe the non-endorsement of Teachout reflects the will of the paper's chairman and publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., a multigenerational nepotism product himself.
It doesn't really matter. Whether it's a psychological complex or the leash they're kept on or something else entirely, the Times editorial board rejects the possibility of changing the political culture of New York State.
Ideology isn't what you talk about doing. It's what you do, and the beliefs and assumptions that constrain you to do it. The New York Times editorial board likes to talk about political reform, but it is incapable of supporting a reformer.
[Image by Jim Cooke; photo via Getty]