The rise of puritanical politics

Sam Smith – I was introduced to politics in Philadelphia and Massachusetts as a teenager. I recall an FBI agent coming to our house to interview my father about a member of the Philadelphia city council and I still remember a Cambridge city council member arguing with another one and saying, “We’re all Christian gentleman here” and his target – the council’s only Jew – just grinning back.

It was a time when politics was not only imperfect, but most people understood that it was. In the over 50 years that I’ve been in journalism I never thought of politicians as role models, but rather as a lake to be crossed to get where you’re going, a battlefield, or another in a never ending list of hassles. When I think of politicians I really admire, I can’t come up with much more than Gene McCarthy and Gaylord Nelson. I’m not shocked or upset; it’s just the way it is.

So when the Andrew Cuomo controversy came up, I kept my mouth shut. I knew we were in a different time, one in which politicians and other public figures were increasingly held to new puritanical values in which a few sins makes one evil whatever else you’ve done with your life.

Increasingly, we call it a “cancel culture” but it’s not a culture at all. A culture includes both the good and the bad, but in the cancel version you need only make a few mistakes to get written off.

I was no fan of Cuomo. I preferred his father and his brother. I sensed there was more than a little amount of bully in him. But before I wrote about him, I thought I better do what few in the public or press have thought about. First, I went to the great web site, On The Issues, and checked out what he had actually done over the years. There was some bad stuff, but on the whole he came out pretty good.

But could he win if he ran again?  Well, one recent poll found 64% saying he shouldn’t run again. And what about a replacement? There’s no good answer except that Democrats comprise 60% of the state’s voters. For a take on possible alternatives, check this out.

Given his mistreatment of several women and misstatements on covid nursing home facts, why even worry about this? For the simple reason we should have learned from Trump. You elect the wrong politician and instead of a handful of women and stats being mistreated, you could have many people dead and many more suffering.. As I noted years ago, Lyndon Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell got more good legislation through than just about anyone, but you wouldn’t want either one near your daughter.

Morality in politics doesn’t lend itself to the puritanical approach. It is a count of virtues against sins, not the nearly inevitable presence of the latter. In fact, it’s the way the rest of us humans are as well. Let’s hope someone remembers our good side.

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