It’s well-established by now (Extra!, 7/06) that political reporters prefer to talk and write about Democrats who stay close to the “center” instead of placating the left-wing party base. This is simply smart politics, these observers note, since it’s always better to be in the middle, because that’s where most people are.
The problem is that pundits’ idea of the “middle” doesn’t seem to correspond to reality.
Take New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. In his June 2 piece, he writes that there are “juicy Democratic dramas” that don’t involve Hillary Clinton–namely, the battle over the direction of New York Democrats. Liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is on one side, centrist state Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on the other.
No surprise that the Times columnist prefers the latter. Cuomo has “been performing a balancing act with implications for Democratic politics well beyond the state,” writes Bruni; his act
speaks to a perennial challenge in both parties: How does a pragmatic politician steer the kind of centrist course that often works best in the long run without provoking a revolt from the more partisan warriors in his or her camp?
Bruni quotes a “Democratic insider” who says Cuomo “likes to live in the middle…. That’s where the country is.”
The problem was the left-leaning Working Families Party, which “was threatening to complicate his re-election by running a candidate to his left”–the nerve!–which meant Cuomo was “forced to grovel before its members”–i.e., citizens who vote in elections.
So what’s in this virtuous middle that the left is trying to steer him away from. “Cuomo’s middle is distinctive and shrewd,” Bruni writes, “a mix of progressive stances on many social issues and a more moderate approach on economic ones.”
So Cuomo favors marriage equality and gun control–those are popular, centrist policies. And what else? Bruni writes that he’s opposed minimum wage increases, “cut corporate taxes and famously rejected” a plan to raise taxes on New York City’s wealthiest. And–perhaps unrelated–Cuomo “has cozied up to Wall Street titans, hungry for their donations now and in the future.”
How opposing a minimum wage increase and keeping taxes low for corporations and the wealthy centrist? These are not popular policies in general, and certainly not among Democrats in the state Cuomo governs. Nonetheless, Bruni is keenly worried that Cuomo may be promising too much to other Democrats, who might tug him away from this “middle” and “hijack his legacy.”
Bruni adds that the “prospect of a left too potent…clearly chills” Cuomo. He’s not the only one.