The New York Daily News published an op-ed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo regarding progressivism, urging Democrats in New York and across America to focus on delivering results rather than just rhetoric.
Text of the op-ed is available below and can be viewed online here.
Earlier this month, the Daily News Editorial Board wrote that the plan to close Rikers Island, an important progressive priority, could well wind up doomed by “arrogant missteps on the left.”
I suggest that the Rikers Island replacement debacle is emblematic of a larger issue that should be openly discussed in the ongoing Democratic presidential primary contest. Namely, what does it mean to be a progressive? It is a label everyone now uses, but how do we define true progressivism?
Is this word defined by rhetoric or results, symbolism or significance, politics or policy?
New York exemplifies the promise and the peril in defining progressivism.
Rikers Island is a national disgrace. Five years ago, the federal government commenced a civil-rights lawsuit. Four years ago, a supposedly progressive plan was put forth that proposed shrinking the total population and replacing the jail with four new smaller jails, to be completed in 10 years.
A 10-year plan — after all the current elected officials are out of office — is obviously dubious at best. The plan proposed citing multiple jails across the city, which, while conceptually interesting, was politically highly improbable.
Little surprise: The plan has been stalled and the Rikers horror continues.
Another example: New York City is the progressive capitol, but homelessness today is worse than it was under the Republican and independent administrations of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is one of the nation’s most progressive, but we still don’t increase funding to poorer school districts — our top social justice and equity priority — without simultaneously raising funding to richer districts.
Progressives all espouse the need for affordable housing, but the incompetence of NYCHA has been tolerated for years with children being housed without heat and exposed to lead poisoning, without any coherent solution.
The only response is demanding more money for a broken system. Where is the concerted progressive outrage and, more importantly, decisive action that fixes a broken bureaucracy?
The common denominator of these great failures — Rikers, poor schools, NYCHA — is obvious: poor, powerless minorities and basic civil rights violations. Addressing them should be the cornerstone of a true progressive agenda, and yet they continue to languish.
New York doesn’t only show the shortcomings of some modern-day progressivism; it shows the promise of a positive progressive agenda.
My father used to say, “It’s not about policies that sound good, but rather policies that are good and sound.” Raising the minimum wage, building more new infrastructure than any other state, providing public college tuition for the middle class, closing more prisons than any state administration and increasing funding for education, job training and alternatives to incarceration, all while growing the economy and reducing unemployment by half.
True progressives understand that if we fail to perform or pursue misguided, uninformed or unworkable priorities, we make government look incompetent, proving Republicans right and losing the vital public support we need to gain.
The Democratic Party’s failure to date has not been in articulation of noble aspirations, but rather the failure in consistently producing meaningful progress in people’s lives.
As Democrats, we all believe in government as a force for good — that it should be the great equalizer and that it has a necessary role in a just society. Republicans believe in small government — that it should provide minimal services, leaving it instead to the private market.
But what too many people fail to understand is that Republicans’ fuel is derived from Democratic failures.
Today, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is articulating the same basic “progressive” goals: more economic opportunity, better public education, affordable health care, etc. To me, the far more important question is how we achieve these goals and who has the ability to get it done.
Progressivism is not about the ability to make promises, but about the ability to deliver them.
While this distinction may be too subtle for the Twitter dialogue of today, it makes all the difference. How we define a true progressive will determine our electoral — and more importantly our governmental — success.
Cuomo is governor of New York.