This is Andrew Cuomo’s theory of politics, as articulated, in a lengthy profile of the New York governor, by the Atlantic‘s Edward-Isaac Dovere:
Democrats, Cuomo says, still don’t get it: Voters across America don’t want bold policy proposals; they want money in their pockets and worries off their plates. They don’t trust government, and they don’t trust the Democrats as the party of government, because they’ve heard years of high-minded promises and they’re still struggling. They want to know what they’re getting for their anxiety and their anger beyond more words about ideas that will never go anywhere or, if they do, will only benefit others.
There is much here to agree with, even if you reject some of the framing. Results are preferable to slogans. Voters who don’t see their lives getting materially better under Democratic rule will stop trusting Democrats to be able to deliver on their promises. These echo, in fact, arguments made by plenty of left-leaning critics of the Democratic Party.
So Dovere seeks to explain why so many of those left-leaning critics hate Governor Cuomo, whose record, as Dovere explains it, or explains Cuomo explaining it, seems to exemplify that philosophy: valuing material results over “high-minded promises.”
Four million people got raises when he signed off on the minimum-wage increase—and those are 4 million voters, Cuomo points out. Everyone got paid family leave. Everyone who was worried about saving enough money to send kids to college saw tuition disappear at state schools. Thousands of people have jobs because of all his building projects, and hundreds of thousands more see those projects under way and can see government at work.
What sort of deluded children could fail to be impressed with this? Only “the professional left,” a class of full-time haters for whom nothing is ever good enough:
The people Cuomo counts as the professional left have an even worse opinion of him, and his record is irrelevant to them. He’s raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City. In-state college tuition is now free, which he announced at an event with Bernie Sanders. Twelve-week paid family leave is the law across the state. New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, which Cuomo rammed through in the weeks after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, while Barack Obama was still naming the members of the special commission he ordered, which made the big move of … ordering up more mental-health studies.
Let’s examine one piece of that record more closely: “In-state college tuition is now free,” Dovere writes. And: “Everyone who was worried about saving enough money to send kids to college saw tuition disappear at state schools.” (This is done in a way that presents it as Cuomo’s characterization of his record, but it is Dovere’s language. These lines are not in quotation marks, nor are there specific assertions challenged in the text of the story.)
Thinking I may have missed some big news, I checked the tuition at some public colleges in New York. As it turns out, tuition at SUNY colleges for in-state residents in Baccalaureate programs is $6,870 a year. At CUNY, it is $6,730 a year for students at four-year colleges.
Strange. So what was that big event about, where Cuomo and Bernie Sanders announced that in-state college tuition is now “free”?
Well, Andrew Cuomo was unveiling a new scholarship. A scholarship is financial aid given to students meeting some particular set of criteria; in a college system with “free” tuition, they would not be needed to cover tuition. The criteria students need to meet to earn this new scholarship, called the Excelsior Scholarship, are so stringent, a large majority of those who applied for it were rejected. Out of 63,599 applicants, 43,513 were rejected, according to one think tank report. A mere “3.2 percent of the 633,543 undergraduates statewide” received the scholarship that supposedly made college “tuition-free” for New York residents.
The governor’s defense would probably be that because New York (and New York City) have so many other financial aid programs, most students didn’t need the Excelsior Scholarship. His office made a similar defense last year, telling MarketWatch that “53% of New York state public college students are attending school tuition free thanks to the state’s financial aid programs.”
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, we can append “for about half of New York students” to each mention of “free” tuition in the Atlantic profile, and also make sure to mentally note that the percentage of those students who have Governor Cuomo to thank for their free ride is in the single digits.
Tuition, of course, is only one of the costs associated with attending college. The Excelsior Scholarship does not cover fees or housing. Money magazine estimates the full cost of attending CUNY Hunter College this academic year at $22,600, the estimated price for students receiving aid at $11,000, and the average price for low-income students at $5,700.
The Excelsior Scholarship was not designed to be a universal program. It was designed to be a modest benefit for the middle class. But because Cuomo sold it, and continues to sell it, as “free college,” he created a group of tens of thousands of people who expected to have their lives materially improved, because of his lofty rhetoric, only to be disappointed by another Democratic politician. They heard his high-minded promises, and they’re still struggling.
Now think of those people so blinded by irrational hate for Cuomo’s political style that “his record is irrelevant to them.” They’re almost as sad as some hypothetical class of people so enamored with his style that his actual record is invisible to them.