Consider a handful of US State governors. Governor Kemp of Georgia signs a draconian voting suppression bill. Texas Governor Greg Abbott blames wind turbines for contributing to the deaths of Texans. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis denies reports that wealthy people receive more COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans all, these guys just keep on wreaking havoc through strong-arming and falsehoods.
Then there’s Gavin Newsom, Democratic Governor of California, embroiled in a recall, ostensibly over his heavy-handed approach to the pandemic, spiced with the double hypocrisy of sending his children to in-person private schools while keeping public schools closed, and attending a large birthday party that exceeded his own gathering restrictions. And New York’s Andrew Cuomo, called to step down by officials of his own party after multiple women accuse him of sexual harassment before any investigation has concluded—or even begun.
The Republican governors represent a laissez-faire response to the pandemic: their states are open for business, masks optional. Meanwhile, the two Democrats steer a more complicated and interventional course. Upon first order analysis, neither approach is commendable: each of their respective states have COVID-19 rates between 90,000 and 100,000 cases per million residents: in line with US average of 93,000. A more nuanced analysis might concede that New York and California’s large urban populations were slammed early in the pandemic, while the Red States could argue that opening their economies diminishes the collateral ill-effects of quarantining and joblessness. Each side juggles statistics to support their case.
Then why are the two Democratic governors in such hot water? The truth lies in an essential difference between our two major political parties.
Democrats proclaim to be the party of the people; to understand the struggles of the poor and disenfranchised, and work toward alleviating them. They aspire to a better future by taking stock of where we are—today— and collectively improving it.
Republicans offer a completely different message. “We are rich and powerful, and if you vote for us, someday, you might be like us.” The simplicity of the message is genius. No need to get bogged down in any present reality or actual path forward. (Remember: the Republican Party has no platform; no stated list of objectives or goals.) Republicans are accountable for nothing, to no one. Their appeal is the aspiration, “You can be like us!” even if the mechanics actually make it more difficult for the have-nots to gain wealth and power.
Ideology aside, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Brian Kemp, Gavin Newsom, and Andrew Cuomo have much in common: they are all rich, powerful white men. Which is how, ultimately, Governors Newsom and Cuomo get into trouble. DeSantis, Kemp and Abbott don’t pretend to identify with their constituents; it is only important that their constituents identify with them. (“I want to be the rich guy who talks tough.”) But Newsom and Cuomo, like most Democrats, pretend to be like the people they represent. Of course, they are not. Does Gavin Newsom see the duplicity of sending his children to private school while closing the public schools? Perhaps not. Does Andrew Cuomo realize how his looks, words, and gestures are out-of-bounds in the egalitarian society he pretends to uphold? Obviously not.
Back in Berkeley, CA in 2015, pedalin’ Paul stayed with political consultant Lea Grundy, who explained an enduring yet irrational aspect of a democracy: people vote their aspirations over their interests. We vote for the guy who’s above the rest of us rather than the chum just like us. We cut down the hypocrisy of the privileged masquerading as a-man-of-the-people in an instant, even as we toss adoration (and votes) to guys who proclaim the rules don’t apply to them. That’s how a guy like Donald Trump can boast about pussy and still be elected President, while sucker Al Franken resigns the Senate over lesser transgressions.
We elect Republicans, in large part because they pretend to stand on granite ground. We damn Democrats, hobbled by feet of clay.