2020 elections

President Franklin Delano Cuomo?

How does the sound of “President Franklin Delano Cuomo” grab you? Like it or not, Cuomo is already in effect running against Trump. Every day he’s on national TV, giving a fact-based approach to the greatest crisis the US has faced for at least 50 years, if not more. As is inevitable, he is being compared to Trump.

Cuomo’s approach shows the yearning that the great majority have for facts vs. bluster. His approval ratings for how he handles this crisis are an astronomical 87% amongst New Yorkers, while less than half that number (41%) approve of Trump’s approach.

Meanwhile, there is “Sleepy Joe Biden” whiling away his days in his basement.

With his inability to complete a thought, his history of dishonesty, his what could be called a “hands-on” approach to women and even young girls, Joe Biden never was a strong candidate for the presidential nomination. His appeals to a day gone by – the days when everything was chummy between Republicans and Democrats – show that he is completely out of touch with today’s realities. Now, the accusation of former staffer Tara Read threatens to upend what seemed to be a certain path to the nomination.

Already there have been a few commentators who have raised the possibility of Cuomo replacing Biden. Trump himself mused about running against Cuomo. On May 1, Oaklandsocialist raised the possibility while comparing Cuomo to FDR on Facebook. How valid is that comparison? Is his history at all similar to that of FDR before he became president?

Cuomo as part of Clinton administration
From his time in the Clinton administration (finally as secretary of Housing and Urban Development – HUD) to the present, Cuomo has shown himself to be adept at performing a balancing act between the interests of big business and the calls of the more populist sectors of the Democratic Party. As HUD secretary, for example, he expanded the programs of government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to facilitate homeownership among lower income workers.

Governor Cuomo: a mixed bag
In 2011, Cuomo took office as New York State governor. Among other steps, he helped pass a bill for same-sex marriage. And after wavering, he maintained the state’s prohibition of fracking.

On the other hand, similar to Biden, Cuomo has worked closely with the Republicans, in part through the “Independent Democratic Conference”, which was a right wing caucus of state Democrats. According to Wikipedia, the IDC “allied itself with the Republicans, having the effect of giving control of the state senate to the them.

He also pushed through a restructuring of NY State taxes as well as “pension reform” for state workers. That “reform” meant increasing the age at which state workers can retire from 62 to 65. As he commented regarding the cuts in pensions “the numbers speak for themselves the pension system as we know it is unsustainable. This bill institutes common-sense reforms to bring government benefits more in line with the private sector…” According to Huffpost the result will cut the average pension payout from $19,000 down to $15,000. Some “unsustainable”!

At the end of 2011 Cuomo worked with top Democratic and Republican legislators on a new tax plan. At that time, the state had a “millionaires’ tax” that was a 2% surcharge on individuals earning over $200,000 per year. This surcharge was about to expire. The far right called for allowing it to die with nothing to replace it while the more populist wing of the Democrats called for its renewal. Cuomo engineered a compromise. As the NY Times explained “beginning next year, the highest-income earners will be taxed at a lower rate than at present, but at a higher rate than had been expected with the expiration of the surcharge.” The Times continued, “The agreement drew praise from an unlikely combination of business groups, which applauded the governor for devoting himself to job creation, and labor unions…”

While there was criticism from the more extreme ends of both capitalist parties, in general the deal seems to have been a shift to the left by Cuomo. What caused that shift?

Occupy Wall St.
In September of 2011, Occupy Wall St. started. As it spread throughout the country, it sharply shifted the entire political focus. That is what Cuomo and other Democrats were responding to. In fact, the same NY Times article stated, “Some Democrats lauded the Occupy Wall Street movement for changing the political climate in Albany, where lawmakers had planned to allow the millionaires’ tax to simply expire.”

Similar shift to left today
That is not the last time Cuomo has made a similar shift. A year ago (May of 2019), Cuomo was trying his best to welcome Amazon into NY State, and when that deal fell through due to popular opposition, Cuomo blamed the unions.

Cuomo in press briefing on May 13

Now, in this present crisis, he is sounding more and more like another former governor of NY turned president: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For one, he is continually criticizing the banks and big business in general. For example, there is his op-ed in the Washington Post on May 13. In it, he attacked how the bankers caused the 2008 financial collapse by “fraud” and then used the bailout money to pay themselves bonuses. “Bankers that had reaped record profits by selling what turned out to be toxic securities were then handed a taxpayer-funded parachute for a soft landing during the crash,” he wrote. “This inequity is poised to happen again, as corporations are planning their next bailout scheme with their friends in Washington.”

He continued: “The Federal Reserve and Treasury Department are jointly launching a $500 billion bond-buying program without any requirement that companies receiving aid retain workers or limit distributions to their executives and shareholders.

“Think about that prospect — $500 billion in federal financial support with no strings attached. That’s great for executives and shareholders! That’s great for the largest corporations in this country, those that have increased their debt by close to $4 trillion since 2009, while enriching themselves via stock buybacks and massive dividends. Meanwhile, workers get laid off and taxpayers foot the bill for unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food assistance and other public supports.”

In his daily press briefing of that same day, he repeated this tune. “A lot of money for big business [in the federal bailout programs] and a lot of money for millionaires and a lot of money for corporations,” he said. “Corporations are going to use this pandemic to lay off workers,” he warned. They are “already telling analysts that their profits are going to go up because they are going to reduce their payroll.” But he made sure to reassure the capitalists: “You want to provide subsidies to the corporations. I understand that,” he said.

FDR’s campaign for president
FDR played a similar role. As NY State governor, he instituted some reforms, but his tenure in that office was not remarkable. And when he campaigned for the presidency, his main slogan was for “government savings”. In his speech at the Democratic convention where he accepted the nomination, he stressed that “Government – federal, state and local – costs are too much… Government of all kinds, big and little, [must] be made solvent.” He continued, “the primary responsibility for relief rests with localities.” As for his “new deal”, as Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins wrote later “the New Deal was not a plan with form or content. It was a happy phrase he [FDR] had coined during the campaign and its value was psychological. It made people feel better…” As quoted in Art Preis’s classic book “Labors Giant Step”.

Saving the big banks vs. relief programs
Preis also explains that FDR’s first major action as president was “to save the big banks and big depositors at the expense of the small banks and small depositors” through his (FDR’s) bank moratorium. Preis also explains that FDR’s relief for unemployed averaged about $1.5 million per year, compared to the $79 up to $100 billion spent on the military in the 1940s and that his Roosevelt’s works programs only provided jobs for no more than 25% of the unemployed.

The role of the big strikes
But FDR’s programs were more than he had planned at the time leading up to his nomination. One factor that drove him to the left surely is the presidential campaigns of the Communist and Socialist Parties, which won nearly a million votes apiece. It was a similar process with his labor reform programs. It was the three militant strikes of 1934 – the Toledo Auto-Lite strike, the Minneapolis general strike and the San Francisco general strike – that forced FDR to recognize that some sort of labor reform was necessary.

Amazon warehouse workers protest. Never a mention by Cuomo, but he must be aware of it.

Similarly with Cuomo, a factor driving him to the left surely is the outpouring of worker protests – over 200 as of this writing. Among the most prominent has been the walkoffs at Amazon in New York. Although you would never know it from his press conferences (where he has yet to mention those protests), but he must be aware of this development.

A secondary detail in comparing Cuomo and FDR is their similarity is the political talent that they both had. According to all reports, FDR’s “fireside chats” (on the radio) were extremely comforting to millions of people in the US at that time. Today, we see Cuomo actually making facts and statistics interesting. Meanwhile, his clever banter with his brother – newscaster Chris Cuomo – really humanizes him.

Also significant is the personal appeal that Cuomo presents. His encounters with his brother, Chris, on the latter’s CNN show have been compared to Trump’s appearances in terms of their entertainment value. And both have been called “reality TV”. In fact, Andrew Cuomo has the personal appeal that almost all successful presidential candidates must have. In Cuomo’s case, he would outshadow Trump in terms of the “manliness” factor, mainly because of his gravelly voice. 

FDR’s “fireside chats” were as popular at the time as Cuomo’s press briefings today.

Will Cuomo be the nominee?
Although the Democratic convention is only a few months away, these months can be a long time. It is becoming increasingly difficult to bury the Tara Read story, and who knows what other similar skeletons are buried in Biden’s closet? In fact, the Democratic Party leaders never seemed very happy with Biden as the alternative to Sanders. They only settled on him after all the others fell to the sidelines. While many may wish they could replace him with Cuomo, it would be a very dicey operation trying to do that without waking the sleeping beast – the Sanders campaign. Not only that but if it were done through some back-room deal, it would leave an unclean aura to the Cuomo campaign which Trump would be sure to exploit.

It would be a very tricky operation, one that is far from certain, but stranger things have been happening in recent years. And a debate between Trump and Cuomo would be one of the most entertaining political events on TV for many years!

Reforms of FDR and Cuomo
Regardless of the outcome of these elections, we should bear in mind that in the end FDR’s reforms failed to resolve the Great Depression. It took a disaster – the rise of fascism and WW II – to do that. Similarly, Cuomo’s “fact-based” approach will not resolve the disaster of new zoonotic (other species to human) diseases. That rise is based on wild habitat destruction combined with factory farming – in other words, the very heart of capitalist development. And Cuomo studiously avoids discussing that. In the case of the Gread Depression, the only resolution that would have avoided the disasters of the 1940s would have been the end of capitalism and the rise of socialism on the basis of workers democracy (i.e. the end of Stalinism also). Something similar is true today.

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