The “liberal” champion is a corporate thug who pays prisoners slave wages to make hand sanitizer and is trying to cut Medicaid.
You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Liberals love Andrew Cuomo. New York’s Governor has exploited the COVID-19 crisis to rebrand himself as the solid, dependable leader that we need in this time of crisis. The hashtag #PresidentCuomo has trended on Twitter on several different occasions. Corporate media outlets have focused intensely on Cuomo’s response, with the New York Times calling the Governor an “authoritative voice in a moment of crisis.” Yet no amount of love for Cuomo can hide how the New York Governor is a stark example of the kind of political leadership that brought us the social problems associated with COVID-19 crisis in the first place.
Andrew Cuomo’s newfound social justice brand is not without context. Liberalism is often misconstrued as a progressive ideology. However, liberalism was only progressive insofar as it unleashed a new social order onto the world stage; that stage being capitalism. The birth of capitalism in the 17th century unleashed dynamic productive forces at the behest of a nascent bourgeoisie thirsty for private profits. This thirst led to the rapid industrial development of the European world but facilitated a holocaust in the African world as the European powers jockeyed for a monopoly over the trade and enslavement of African flesh. Liberalism’s worship of the free market also justified massive extermination campaigns of indigenous peoples across the world who were viewed as worthless to the so-called edicts of “civilization” proscribed by Europe’s capitalist invaders.
A major problem with American politics is that this history has been whitewashed, erased, and molded to fit the conditions of the period. Numerous social movements, from the working class insurgency of the “Great Depression” period to the Black liberation movement not a generation later, forced concessions from the ruling class and altered its liberal ideology. To maintain the capitalist foundation of the U.S.’ racist empire, liberal capitalists branded themselves as the stakeholders of progressive social change. The decades-long stranglehold that the Democratic Party has maintained over the American labor movement and the Black political movement required not only an opening up of U.S. capitalism to the demands of these movements but also the equation of liberalism with social justice. All of this was of course framed in the racist and imperialist narratives of “democracy” and “freedom,” as opposed to the “dictatorial” and “authoritarian” kind of societies that existed in the socialist world.
To maintain the capitalist foundation of the U.S.’ racist empire, liberal capitalists branded themselves as the stakeholders of progressive social change.
Liberalism’s so-called “social contract” with the downtrodden and oppressed began to unravel when U.S. imperialism entered its neoliberal stage. Beginning in the 1970s, monopoly and finance capital became a fetter on capitalist production itself. Capitalists of all political stripes intensified the exploitation of the entire working class and expanded the military state to ensure social tranquility. Liberals abandoned their social justice leanings in favor of a “tough on crime,” anti-communist, and pro-free market orientation. Finance capital imposed harsh austerity on the masses and replaced frozen wages with enormous amounts of debt. Liberals collaborated with their rightwing counterparts to destroy welfare, bust unions, build prisons, and expand the warfare state to new and commanding heights.
The neoliberal period has placed liberalism in a crisis that Andrew Cuomo represents quite well. Cuomo is by all accounts a corporate thug. He has bullied the public sector into concessions (especially the public hospital system ), expanded the privatization of education , and worked as hard as he could to appease his large array of corporate donors . Cuomo has presided over the most racially segregated school system and economically unequal state within the imperial union. Of course, liberal swooning of Cuomo has ignored these inconvenient facts.
Apologists for Cuomo may object to criticisms because they truly believe that his response to the COVID-19 crisis represents a sign of political and personal growth. Cuomo has demanded a stronger federal response and has expressed empathy toward vulnerable New Yorkers at risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus. Beyond the optics, however, lays the grim reality that any hope of Cuomo becoming a progressive champion is a twisted fantasy at best and an outright lie at worst. As Cuomo berates Trump for his lackluster response, his Medicaid Redesign Team is moving forward with Medicaid cuts which will reduce hospital capacity and strip New York State from critical federal funds. And as Cuomo expresses his so-called empathy for vulnerable New Yorkers, he is forcing vulnerable prisoners, most of whom are Black American, to bottle hand sanitizer for sixty cents per hour.
Liberalism is in crisis because the very basis of its legitimacy is being eroded by the sharpening contradictions of U.S. imperialism. COVID-19 has exposed how the social relations of U.S. imperialism are dependent upon the immiseration of working class and poor people to feed the private profits of just a few individuals, banks, and corporations. Unemployment continues to grow yet the best that the most progressive liberals in the U.S. Congress can muster is a “yes” vote to a stimulus bill that pumps trillions into the coffers of the rich while offering crumbs to virtually everyone else. Rent bills, debt payments, and all other expenses yet to be frozen are past due with very little resistance from the liberal class. The ruling class is peddling Cuomo as the great white savior of the infected masses to channel popular frustrations into the graveyard of capitalist state politics. In this age of austerity, liberals such as Cuomo set the bar low for what is possible and then brand themselves as social justice stalwarts whenever rightwing Republicans possess majorities to set the policy agenda.
Those who elevate Andrew Cuomo deeply desire a return to the normalcy of the bipartisan, neoliberal agenda where the liberal class operated comfortably as the most effective purveyors of plunder and mass murder within the U.S. imperial state. However, the longer that COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the U.S. population, the more difficult it becomes for the liberal class to argue that such bipartisanship possesses any universal benefit to the masses. Chaos and uncertainty plague the Trump administration, but the liberal class has sent a clear message to the people that it cannot overstep the narrow confines of austerity even amid a pandemic. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have a very good reason for failing to take a leadership role in the pandemic response. Neither can use their national platform to advocate for a response that would comprehensively meet the needs of poor and working people. Such a scenario is anathema to the very corporate forces which have financed Biden and Pelosi’s careers for decades.
Andrew Cuomo no doubt has presidential aspirations and the corporate media fully supports them. In fact, the corporate media has fallen in love with Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 response to the point where there are legitimate discussions occurring within the rightwing over whether Biden will be replaced by Cuomo at the Democratic National Convention. Far from boosting the actual credibility of the Democratic Party with the exploited masses, the Cuomo lovefest is a manifestation of the crisis afflicting liberalism. Cuomo possesses the very same policy agenda as Joe Biden and the DNC establishment. While Cuomo has become more marketable from the desperate conditions produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is only a matter of time when his commitments to mega-corporations such as Blackstone Group and New York State’s Congressional Republicans begin to erode his legitimacy in the eyes of a Democratic Party base that sees Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and a living wage as key policy priorities.
Alienation is at the core of liberalism’s crisis. Just as capitalism and imperialism strips oppressed and working people of the full value of their labor and of any ownership over commodities produced, so too does liberalism ideologically disempower the most militant sections of the population living within the imperial beast. In the age of neoliberalism, any shred of support for the welfare of working-class Black Americans and the poor generally from the liberal class has been dropped completely. As wealth disparities grow and as all sections of the political class offer nothing but austerity, war, and state repression, the liberal class will continue to desperately fill in the cracks in its legitimacy by claiming to be the most “presidential,” the most “democratic,” and the most “stable” political choice in a corporate wonderland.
A major problem is that the masses cannot eat, find shelter, or gain access to free healthcare from “stable” imperial rule. What they will continue to find is that stable imperial rule means more bombs, more state repression, and more poverty. “Likeability” and “electability” are bourgeois concepts that expose the rot of liberalism. Elite love for Cuomo is but another example of how liberalism has become little more than an ideology dependent upon elaborate public relations campaigns to build a base of mainly wealthy support. COVID-19 and the international crisis that it has precipitated will only fuel the desperation currently inspiring the elevation of Andrew Cuomo in elite circles.
It is important in this time of crisis not to give space for the likes of Cuomo to build political capital, lest we forget just how damaging the last two generations have been for the oppressed and the exploited held captive within the political tent of the Democratic Party and its so-called liberal class.