The way it should be in this country is this way: You’re free to hold whatever beliefs you like, but you must obey the laws, even the ones you hate, passed by people you don’t agree with. That is to say, there should be no such thing in America as what Orwell famously termed “thoughtcrime.”
What Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on the radio last week seems to not only establish thoughtcrime in New York State, but to set its penalty as exile. With thanks to the Times Union’s excellent Capital Confidential blog for a version easily copied and pasted, here’s the governor’s words, uttered on Susan Arbetter’s “Capitol Pressroom” show: “You have a schism within the Republican Party. … They’re searching to define their soul, that’s what’s going on. Is the Republican Party in this state a moderate party or is it an extreme conservative party? That’s what they’re trying to figure out. It’s a mirror of what’s going on in Washington. The gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans. It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans.
“… You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.
“If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican; but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.”
Hmm. This is about as far from the noble sentiment “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” as you can get. I will leave it to others to bring the thunder in rebutting Cuomo. Certainly, I support reproductive rights, a better system to keep guns out of the wrong hands and marriage equality but I don’t automatically think that a person who disagrees with me on those points is not worthy of living in the same state as me. (I mean, if all of our right-wing friends and relatives moved out of the state, who would we have to get into it to at holiday dinners?) I’ll note that so far, Sean Hannity has said he’s going to leave New York, which makes for one less BS artist residing here. Also I will note that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has invited disaffected New Yorkers to move down there — an appealing offer indeed, no matter what your politics, in a week where the Empire State is being whipped by another polar vortex.
Instead, I want to address this as someone who thinks himself, in most cases and on most issues, a pretty liberal person. What I think is key to the liberal approach to life is — excuse me if this comes off as facile — a liberality in tolerance of differing opinions. Sure, there are many things that are not tolerable, but truly unacceptable acts (not opinions) leading from that intolerance are covered by state penal law . The “my way or the highway” attitude and emphasis on ideological purity we see so much from those with conservative outlooks is, I feel, unseemly and wrong coming from liberals. We’re supposed to be the side of the political spectrum which embraces and persuades with reasoned arguments, not the side who says stuff like the governor said. We’re supposed to be the side touting inclusiveness and compassion, not the side which tells people to hit the freakin’ road. (Parenthetically, if he had said extreme conservatives have no political place in New York, I would have no problem with that, even if I don’t fully believe that’s the case. It’s the literality of his words that’s the problem.) I would hate to see my fellow liberals become so embittered by the culture war and political strife that they adopt the fire-and-brimstone tactics of the right; this is why the snarkiness and demonizing tactics of some liberal commentators makes me embarrassed.
There have been calls for the governor to apologize; maybe he will, maybe he won’t. I’m guessing the latter; while I agree with a lot of what the governor has done or tried to do, he seems to fall into a depressingly common category of chief executives in these parts: the kind whose ego has grown so large that it blots out a sense of perspective, as well as the merits of judicious use of power and an obligation to lead all of your people, not just the ones who agree with you. We’ve seen the governor of New Jersey land himself in serious hot water for abusing his power to mess with his foes; we wonder who else will find themselves in a similar kettle.