Let us judge people on their accomplishments and character

For years, I have asked my journalism students whether it matters where information comes from, as long as that information is good. Let’s say, for example, a bitter fifty-year-old woman is furious that her husband dropped her for a newer model. She then tells a reporter that her husband is a crook and offers substantiating information that could put the guy in prison. Should the reporter reject the information because she doesn’t like the woman who is offering it up? The answer, of course, is no. If the information is good, it’s good despite the fact that we may not personally like the source.

It’s the same thing in politics. Take the case of Governor Andrew Cuomo. There are many insiders who don’t like the guy. There are way too many war stories about past offenses and hurts. Andrew says that he’s a different guy than he was back in the old days when he worked for his father. Sigmund Freud tells us that character is set by the time an individual is four or five years old. But people mature and may come to understand that some parts of their core character are not productive. If they find themselves about to do the same old nonproductive thing, they may hit themselves on the side of the head with realization and do what does not come naturally. Might that be going on in Andrew’s case?

The political onlookers have to make choices. They must decide whether this is the old Andrew or the wiser, more mature fellow. What’s more, like the journalist who has to evaluate where her information is coming from, we have to consider Cuomo’s political decisions. Is Cuomo making decisions to ensure his reelection as governor or to get to the White House? Should it matter? If Cuomo wants a series of laws asserting women’s rights, or gun control, or a raise in the minimum wage, or furtherance of gay rights, is the root of his ambition a fair question? If his State of the State message is preceded by unseemly and gratuitous adulation, either by himself or his appointees, should that matter? If Cuomo decides to allow fracking with the consequence that some child may end up drinking chemically tainted water so that profits can be made and jobs created, is that a matter of character?

I would submit to you that the job of governor is very different than that of president. In the Oval Office, character counts for much more. The White House is now allowed massive leeway, much of it in secret. The president can make secret troop deployments, order assassinations and do some very dirty tricks. So, while a governor has some very real limitations on power, a president has far fewer. That’s when the character of the person calling the shots really matters.

Andrew Cuomo certainly acknowledges that he has made mistakes in the past. He argues that he is not the same guy he was in his early adult years but if you talk to political insiders, they will tell you that he hasn’t changed a bit. Freud asserts that character is character. Cuomo is doing some very important things that are worthy of praise, but the question remains, is he doing them because they are the means to an end or because he really thinks these things are a matter of principle?

There are institutional demands and then there are personal convictions. Jimmy Carter may have failed as president because he had personal convictions and stuck to them, no matter what the political cost. One thing is for sure — let us judge people on their character as well as their accomplishments.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/28/13

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One Comment on “Let us judge people on their accomplishments and character”

  1. Harvey Says:

    There are too many esoteric methods to judge character and accomplishments. It is better to await the historical perspective then to offer real-time answers. Historians recognize that Truman was probably the most unprepared person to become President whereas history looks at Reagan with a smile because of his ability to communicate with the opposition party. The obvious solution would be a constututional amendment making the losing presidential candidate, the vice president. It would have been interest to see how the phony endless war in the Middle East would have changed this been the rule. Both Nixon and Ford must take blame for the unnecessary Vietnamese War that caused the severe recession of the 1980’s. Your interest in Andrew Cuomo is fascinating because of his role in the housing crisis that triggered the recession and depression to many also caused by another war, this time actually encouraging the continuation of the war by occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing is certain though Andrew is no Mario. His dependence on focus groups and media adverting quickly raise the question of where is this money coming from? Some of us like Soros, and some of us like the Koch Brothers. I like neither and prefer to address the actual issue of the direction being taken by our Country. How can Andrew have any convictions if he depends on focus groups and media advertising. If an example is needed let us look at the accomplishments and character of FDR. Or take a time machine and look at the Presidency of Mr. Washington. However this mindset is hardly confined to the United States. China for all intensive purposes is a predator capitalist economy and should be properly defined as a fascist state, having long left whatever the principles of communism.The reason why many don’t like Andrew is simple. He was his father’s campaign manager when Mario lost a bruising primary against Mr. Koch, and then his campaign manager when his father beat Koch in the gubernatorial primary using rather harsh political tactics. I listen to Andrew and like what I hear but always am curious why he seems to always say the “right” things. NYS has hardly changed and he has been governor for a short time. Employment in Upstate NY is worsening. His proposals such as coterminality and looking at and ending regional duplicative government service delivery are excellent. yet they remain proposals while fraud and abuse in NYS Medicaid have become institutionalized and the clout of NYS is measured by the steady of Congressional seats to other states.

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