An Important Difference Between Democrats and Republicans

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

One difference between today’s political parties stands out: Democrats hold their own to a much higher standard than Republicans. Where Republicans quickly bury their collective heads in the sand when confronted by wrongdoing on the part of their fellow Republicans, Democrats frequently rush — sometimes, perhaps, too quickly — to judgment. But, if Democrats sometimes overreact, at least they are not looking away when bad behavior stares them in the face.

This is one lesson learned from the fall from power of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned this week amid a cascade of accusations from multiple women of improper sexual behavior and after release of a report from the state’s attorney general detailing Cuomo’s conduct. Cuomo resigned when it became obvious he would not survive impeachment by Democrats in the state legislature and because virtually the entire Democratic Party, nationally as well as locally, called for him to step down. 

Contrast the nearly unanimous demand from Democrats for Cuomo to resign with the disregard of Republicans to wrongdoing among them. Nary a peep has been uttered against Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who is reportedly under investigation for having sex with an underage girl. Gaetz has denied the accusation, and he, like everyone else, is entitled to his day in court, but Republican silence in this instance is deafening. This from a party that once tried to claim character and sexual morality mattered. It is, after all, little more than 20 years since the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. (More on Clinton later.)

Gaetz is small fry, but former president Donald Trump is not. Whole books have been written, and will continue to be written, on Trump’s sexual improprieties, his corruption, and his illegal plotting against the United States Constitution (as in, the “Big Lie.). Even more shocking than the Republican Party’s willingness to ignore all the evidence of Trump’s bad behavior is that party leaders ignored it even though it was conducted openly. No Republican can ever credibly claim, “Well, I didn’t know it was that bad!”

Trump bragged about sexually molesting women in the “Access Hollywood” tape. More than two dozen women have accused the former president of sexual misconduct, and at least one of those cases involved an accusation of rape. One of Trump’s defenses against these allegations is to say, “She’s not my type,” which seems to suggest that if the woman in question were his “type” it would be permissible to engage in criminal behavior. 

Republicans overlooked all that bad conduct, even the parts he admitted, just as they turned a deaf ear to all evidence of Trump’s corruption and other instances of criminal and/or unethical actions. Most Republicans in Congress refused to impeach and convict Trump for attempting to lure Ukraine into meddling in the 2020 presidential election. Similarly, most Republicans voted not to impeach and convict Trump for inciting a mob to storm the Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes. And, they continue to look the other way as evidence of his continuing war against the American democratic system mounts, even though much of his plotting to undermine the 2020 presidential election has been conducted in the open.

Trump’s success (at least, so far) in escaping accountability for his bad behavior — sexual, ethical, and criminal — serves as a template for other politicians. But, Cuomo had other, closer to home, role models as he tried to tough it out amid all the increasing accusations of sexual harassment and improprieties. Fomer President Clinton was one. Clinton survived his impeachment for sexual impropriety and perjury and left office with high approval ratings. But, with the growth of the “Me Too” movement in recent years, many Democrats have come to regret their unwillingness to confront Clinton’s behavior. 

Cuomo probably took inspiration from Ralph Northam’s survival as governor of Virginia. Northam, a Democrat, refused to step down in 2019 when a 1984 photo surfaced that appeared to be him in blackface. Despite nearly universal calls from Democratic leaders for him to resign, Northam will finish his term this year as a Democrat in good standing. Northam was probably aided by Virginia’s single-term limit for governors and the fact that his would-be successor, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, was accused of sexual assault by two women. Fairfax also remains in office. 

Cuomo is the son of a popular three-term former governor of the state. He was in the middle of a third term himself, defeating all comers from the party’s left and right. And, he received widespread plaudits — and great press coverage — in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic for his handling of the contagion in New York and his battles with Trump over needed supplies and ventilators as well as the president’s overall handling of the pandemic.

But, Cuomo made enemies along the way. His prickly personality and vindictiveness helped to undo him. Over his long career, Cuomo has earned a reputation as a bully who is quick to retaliate against people — even former allies — who challenge him. (Sound familiar?) Many perceived Cuomo as less than straightforward. “He’s a political thoroughbred with many skills. But honesty is not one of them,” said Mark Green, who ran against Cuomo for political office in the early 2000s. Finally, Cuomo was embroiled in other scandals besides sexual impropriety, most notably the accusation that his administration forced nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19. Reports indicate the policy increased the number of virus-related deaths among residents of these facilities. 

In the end, however, Cuomo’s successes and failures probably had little to do with the reaction of the Democratic Party to the accusations against him of sexual misbehavior. As the party that claims the mantle of diversity and appeals to women voters, Democrats simply could not ignore all the credible accusations against Cuomo. And, the nearly universal call among Democrats for his resignation reveals, once again, an important difference between the two parties. Simply put, it is this: The quest for power leads Republicans to ignore evil among them (perhaps, even abet it), while Democrats believe that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed.

Posted August 13, 2021

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