Last week one of Michelle Goldberg’s opinion columns at the NY Times caught my attention. It was a critique of conservative resistance to wokeness which, to put it mildly, missed a few things. She followed that up with another column which I didn’t see until today. Published Monday, the piece is titled “Why Democrats Aren’t Asking Cuomo to Resign.” To my surprise, this one is pretty good.
I don’t know that Goldberg came up with the headline but in this case it seems to reflect what the piece is about. She’s trying to explain why, despite all of the credible allegations against Gov. Cuomo, Democrats aren’t really reacting very strongly. She starts by admitting that Cuomo looks guilty:
It seems obvious enough that Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York did what his former aide Charlotte Bennett said he did. Bennett, 25, told The New York Times that, among other things, Cuomo asked her if she ever had sex with older men, complained about being lonely and wanting a hug, and said he would date someone in her 20s.
And as Goldberg points out, Cuomo himself hasn’t really denied Bennett’s allegations. He released a statement suggesting he’d said some inappropriate things without meaning to. So why aren’t Democrats calling for his head? Goldberg offers three explanations:
My guess is that if this scandal had broken a few years ago, high-profile Democrats would have felt no choice but to call for Cuomo’s resignation. Since then, however, a few things have happened. After the killing of George Floyd and last summer’s protests, the locus of our culture wars shifted from sex to race. Tara Reade made allegations against Joe Biden which got national attention but turned out to be full of inconsistencies. And most significantly, among many Democrats, there’s tremendous bitterness toward those who pressured Al Franken to leave the Senate in 2018 after he was accused of grabbing several women’s butts.
Let’s consider these one at a time. First, it’s true that George Floyd and BLM have sucked up a lot of the media’s attention over the past 9 months, but it’s strange that Goldberg is saying #MeToo needs to be “the locus of our culture wars” in order to have an impact. I thought the whole idea of #MeToo was to change the culture so everyone approached these issues differently going forward. I don’t think she’s saying Democrats have forgotten so much as saying have moved on to other things.
That brings us to her next point which seems connected to the first one. She writes that Tara Reade made allegations against Joe Biden which were “full of inconsistencies.” So another reason why #MeToo doesn’t have the impact it did a couple years ago is because they couldn’t bring themselves to support Tara Reade. And finally her last point which she deems the most significant is that Democrats still regret pushing Al Franken out of office.
If you read between the lines there’s a much simpler explanation for all three things, one which Goldberg seems to be overcomplicating a bit. Here it is: Democrats are partisans who don’t like applying their own rules to fellow Democrats.
That explains why Tara Reade’s allegations led to a lot of consternation and awkward clarifications, i.e. Democrats never said “believe all women.” Because in that case, believing women would have been terribly inconvenient for their chances to retake the White House.
And it explains the regret over ousting Sen. Franken. Because in that case they really did call out one of their own as if he were a Republican and many still regret doing so years later. As Goldberg notes later in the piece, “Twitter is full of people demanding that the party not ‘Franken’ Cuomo.” The partisans don’t want to use #MeToo principles to hold Democrats accountable, they want to use them to hold Republicans accountable.
As for BLM, Democrats embraced another opportunity to score big wins in the culture wars. That’s a lot more satisfying that applying #MeToo lessons to people like Andrew Cuomo. Democratic partisanship explains it all. And to her credit, Goldberg even admits as much in passing:
Aside from Franken, the person who paid the biggest political price for that episode was New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, the first senator who called for Franken to step down. As Amber Phillips wrote in The Washington Post in 2019, while there are multiple reasons Gillibrand’s 2020 presidential bid sank, “one of the undeniable anchors for her was a sentiment among the Democratic base that she was the reason Al Franken got pushed out of the Senate.” So perhaps it’s not surprising that, rather than calling on Cuomo to step aside, Gillibrand has joined other Democrats in supporting an investigation.
Sen. Gillibrand has learned her lesson. So have other elected Democrats. And that lesson is that there’s no upside in holding Democrats accountable. That’s the real reason most Democrats aren’t calling for Cuomo to resign. It’s the reason #MeToo doesn’t seem to be having the same impact it did a few years ago.
If only Cuomo were a Republican, Democrats would have eagerly gone in for the kill. Case in point, the push to kill the Kavanaugh nomination became such a s**tshow because with Kavanaugh they had no reason to hold back anything. Principle and partisanship were aligned. With Cuomo, they are going to settle for waiting on the outcome of a months-long investigation.
I have to say, I think Goldberg mostly got this one right. All of the pieces of the puzzle are there, she just couldn’t quite bring herself to state the obvious: Democrats have once again put partisanship above principle. But she does conclude that, while an investigation will delay things a bit, eventually Democrats will have to pick sides. At some point this whole mess is going to be a choice between #MeToo and I’m with him.