Civil war. Insurgency. Fratricide; just some of the terms the press will not use to describe what has become an all-out mutiny on the left as New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks his party’s nomination for a second term as chief executive of the Empire State.
Last week, The New York Times editorial board expressed dissatisfaction with Cuomo’s style of governance and his inability to curb what they consider corporate America’s undue influence over New York’s politics. “The state remains as subservient to big money as ever,” the editorial board lamented.
While they declined to endorse Cuomo’s left-wing challenger, Fordham University associate professor Zephyr Teachout, they did welcome the “shakeup” her candidacy might have on the state’s gubernatorial primary race.
Teachout did receive the endorsement of some key liberal outlets like her state’s chapter of the National Organization for Women and The Nation magazine. On Wednesday, however, she received what may be the most important endorsement of her candidacy – a candidacy plagued by an inability to get the mainstream media’s attention. This week, Teachout and her running mate Tim Wu received a nod of support from actor Mark Ruffalo and all the media attention that came with it.
— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) September 3, 2014
Teachout has been running a smart campaign from Cuomo’s left. The incumbent has steadfastly avoided giving her any exposure and refused her requests for debate. On Tuesday night, a scheduled showdown between Cuomo and Teachout broadcast on New York City’s NY1 network, but only Teachout showed up. In a performance guaranteed to not inspire the deluge of left-wing condescension Clint Eastwood sparked in 2012, Teachout spent the evening debating an empty chair.
The performance netted her a favorable write up in the city’s legacy liberal newspaper, The Village Voice:
Teachout ended up spending the better of 20 minutes attacking Cuomo and outlining her own vision for New York: banning fracking, funding public education, better transportation systems connecting upstate and the city, reforming the tax code to make wealthy New Yorkers pay more, and opposing any further expansion of casinos in the state. She also got in that Reagan jab.
“Can the Democratic Party return to its populist roots?” Salon’s Matt Stoller asked in July. “There is a hunger in the Democratic Party for making the party serve the interest of regular voters, not the rich.”
The potentially transformative message of the Teachout-Wu campaign is that the problem is not solely one of personalities or tactical political approaches. Rather it is that the New Democrat model itself, and the Democratic party establishment, is fundamentally at odds with the party’s traditional liberalism.
“There’s a desperate desire among Dem elites to pretend lockstep policy unity,” Stoller later wrote on Twitter. He unfavorably cited New York Times economist Paul Krugman and Vox.com analyst Matt Yglesias who both recently determined, as Krugman put it, “Democrats are remarkably unified on policy.”
This is a characteristically simplistic argument from Krugman which clearly papers over the dramatic schism within the Democratic coalition. Right now, only New York State’s Democratic Party is bifurcating, but the contagion of dissatisfaction with the Democratic establishment threatens to spread throughout the liberal grassroots. This seems like a major development in American politics similar to the 2008-2009 insurrection in the conservative movement which resulted in the complete reconstitution of the Republican Party. So why isn’t the press reporting on it?