Time for New Yorkers to re-read ‘The Prince’

Some Cuomo staff people were annoyed at me when I suggested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was Machiavellian in his approach to politics. I argued at the time that Andrew had, with great success, adopted the Machiavellian principle that the ends justified the means. What’s more, I made it clear that I thought Machiavelli was a genius. Increasingly, it looks like Andrew, too, is a political genius. As a political scientist, I had several courses in political theory which included the writings of Machiavelli, in particular his masterpiece The Prince. If anyone has missed the beauty of the comparison, Machiavelli wrote about the Prince and Andrew is a prince of sorts. In fact, people used to refer to his brilliant but sometimes brooding father as “Hamlet on the Hudson.”

You’ve really got to hand it to Andrew. He has made friends with some of the most powerful forces in New York. There can be little doubt about the affinity between Andrew and the admiring Murdoch-hired journalists at the New York Post. Andrew’s basic philosophy includes a great deal that would make any Republican proud. For example, the president of the United States thinks that the wealthiest Americans should be taxed. Andrew is against any new taxes. That’s right — any new taxes. In fact, if new revenues are needed, you had better believe that they will fall upon the middle class.

One has to look no further than the New York and New Jersey Port Authority’s demand for whopping toll increases that would affect commuters who use bridges and tunnels into Manhattan. In a classic Machiavellian play, the Port Authority came out with an outrageous demand to make middle class commuters pay through the nose. Andrew and his equally conservative New Jersey counterpart, Republican Governor Chris Christie, said that the PA board (theoretically independent, although appointed by the two governors) was being too piggish. That’s the oldest play in the political book. The hired flunkies take the heat and the politicians come riding in on white horses saying that the demands are too much but that some rise in the tolls would be justified. Machiavelli must be looking down from the clouds and smiling.

Then there is the case of the Indian tribes who have always given New York governors a tough time over the issue of collecting New York taxes on the cigarettes they sell. Smokers love the money that they save (in the millions of dollars collectively) and the Indians have always stated that they are sovereign and can do what they want. Then along comes Andrew and announces that he is in favor of allowing commercial, non-Indian operators to run casinos. You’d have to be really dense not to get that move. The Indians were infuriated by Cuomo’s casino suggestion. Could Andrew have been signaling them that if they cooperated on the cigarette taxes, his other idea about opening up casinos to commercial operators might go away? After all, this new proposal will be a heavy lift. It would take a constitutional amendment to make it happen and it could easily be forgotten if the Indians complied on the cigarette taxes.

Finally, there are all those civil service unions who have never had to contend with Andrew. He put it to them: either take no raises for three years and unpaid furlough days or a lot of civil service workers would lose their jobs. Andrew, ever the political genius, knew that he’d have the people behind them on that one. He played hardball and they crumbled.

The governor has a lot of people liking him. If I were you, I’d pick up a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince. It’s the playbook.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/22/11

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One Comment on “Time for New Yorkers to re-read ‘The Prince’”

  1. Governor Cuomo is clever, no doubt. I can only hope he’s still unformed enough to respond to the people rather than the money. Beyond taxes, I question his position on fracking, as he has been hiding behind the curtain of the DEC. If he truly wants to run for president he will have to weigh the relative value of the gas/oil companies money against the outrage of New York State public. If he okays the open-ended fracking of upstate NY while protecting NYC, he will turn tens of thousands of potential supporters into deeply dedicated enemies at greatly deserved risk to his political future.

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