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Cuomo defines and divides

Friday, January 24, 2014
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent remarks about “extreme conservatives” were unfortunate and offensive, whether taken in context or out (as they have been in many cases, which is always the danger when you say provocative things provocatively). One shouldn’t have to be among those so labeled to see that.

The context was a discussion of the Republican Party during a radio interview. The governor pointed out correctly that there’s a deep schism in Washington among Republicans — who are, as he said, trying to “define their soul.” So far, so good.

Cuomo started getting into trouble when he turned the conversation to the Republicans in New York state, warning that they shouldn’t bring any of that “extreme” stuff here. “Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right to life, pro assault weapon, anti-gay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.”

How’s that for sweeping generalizations?

Cuomo has taken it upon himself to define “extreme conservatives” and “New Yorkers.” In his lexicon, a New Yorker is a “moderate” — someone, whether Democrat or Republican, who agrees with him on abortion, gun control and same-sex marriage. While the polls show that most do, does that make those who don’t, for whatever reason, “extreme conservatives”? And even if it does, does that mean they are not New Yorkers? Cuomo may have been referring to politicians, but ordinary people who would be voting for those politicians can be excused if they think he was referring to them as well.

These labels are simplistic and polarizing, which makes them unhelpful and unhealthy — part of what has caused the deep schism in our (“all our”) country. They prevent people and politicians from talking reasonably to those with different beliefs, finding common ground and reaching compromise.

And New York Democrats may soon be trying to define their own soul, with a wing led by New York City’s “extremely liberal” new mayor, Bill de Blasio, and another led by Cuomo (who once would have proudly called himself a liberal but is now a “moderate”). Both are who New Yorkers are, and both have a place here.

 
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