We got everything from claims of a political hit job to ‘I have daughters’
Unlike the soon-to-be former governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, I can admit when I’m wrong. Which is why I’ll say up front that, despite all the pressure he’s been facing of late, I was surprised to see Cuomo announce his resignation on Tuesday. I was not, however, surprised by the content of his statement.
Even in defeat, he remains defiant. Even when categorically cast as the villain by an extensive independent investigation, he claims the mantle of victimhood. Even in apologizing, he shifts blame to the women he assaulted, the political allies he betrayed, and the constituents he failed. For Cuomo, this is not a just punishment for wrongdoing. It is his last remaining option to evade true responsibility. This is not accountability at all.
In his announcement, Cuomo said he takes full responsibility for his actions, but then denied any wrongdoing in every single other line of this statement. Even for him, it was brazen.
“The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw. The reaction was outrage. It should have been. However, it was also false,” he said, acknowledging instead that he merely offended 11 women, but only because they misinterpreted his actions. It was their problem, you see, not his. “I thought a hug and putting my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly, but she found it to be too forward. I kissed a woman on the cheek at a wedding and thought I was being nice, but she felt that it was too aggressive.”
He doubled down on this assertion that he had done nothing wrong and continued on to suggest that he was the victim of a kind of political hit job. A “witch hunt”, if you will. “This situation and moment are not about the facts. It’s not about the truth. It’s not about thoughtful analysis. It’s not about how do we make the system better. This is about politics and our political system today is too often driven by the extremes,” he said. The language may be more sophisticated than what former President Trump may have used, but it is no less morally repugnant or evasive.
The statement continued with several familiar dog-whistles that implied the #MeToo movement has gone too far and that his forced resignation was the consequence of cancel culture or feminism gone awry. “In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” he said, shifting blame from himself to those of us who have “redrawn” the lines.
“I’m a fighter and my instinct is to fight through this controversy because I truly believe it is politically motivated, I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful and I believe it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society,” he added, recalling those who have fretted that #MeToo and whatever feminist wave this is have begun an overly punitive pile-on of office flirtations.
Finally, in a variation on the “I have daughters” theme, Cuomo said that he “sees the world through the eyes of his daughters,” and that he wants them to know he never intentionally disrespected a woman: “Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized.”
I want to celebrate Cuomo’s resignation as a win. I want to see it as a victory for everyone who has fought for decades for sexual harassment and assault allegations such as these to be treated with the seriousness that they deserve. I want to be able to truly celebrate the ascension of New York’s first woman governor, Kathy Hochul. But I can’t. Because I know that this resignation only came because Cuomo was facing more serious and damaging repercussions, starting with his almost certain impeachment. Had the impeachment gone forward, he would have been barred from running for future office, his reputation would have been more concretely damaged, and his disgrace would have been nearly complete. He knows this.
This statement allows him to retain his defiant posture, to continue to denigrate and belittle his accusers, and to further a worldview that refuses to take women seriously. In the best-case scenario, Cuomo simply slinks off into relative obscurity, comfortably spending the rest of his days in some gated New England suburb. In the worst-case scenario, like a misogynistic phoenix rising from the ashes of a failed women’s movement, he returns to politics again in a few years. Perhaps in a Republican president’s cabinet, as a Senator or judge, or maybe he’ll even make that long-promised presidential bid. I’m not ruling anything out.
But hey, I’ve been wrong before.