Cuomo and the Complexities of Sexual Harassment
Unlike former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo didn’t — more pointedly, couldn’t — absorb the sexual allegations made by numerous women and simply ride out the storm. On Tuesday, he announced his resignation from office as governor of New York.
In that respect, Cuomo was more like Richard Nixon, the only person ever to resign from the presidency. Like Nixon, Cuomo is described as leaving office “in disgrace,” and both men, perennially denounced for their bullying behavior and acerbic personalities, saved the most human and contrite versions of themselves for their political Waterloos.
The most poignant line Cuomo delivered in his farewell speech was when he said that although in his mind he’s never crossed the line with anyone, “I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”
Yet the most egregious allegations described in the report issued on Aug. 3 by the state attorney general’s office are beyond any redrawn line or generational miscommunication.
The report concludes that Cuomo “sexually harassed a number of state employees through unwelcome and unwanted touching, as well as by making numerous offensive and sexually suggestive comments,” and that “the culture of fear and intimidation, the normalization of inappropriate comments and interactions, and the poor enforcement of the policies and safeguards, contributed to the sexual harassment, retaliation, and an overall hostile work environment.”
The more serious allegations include that Cuomo reached under the blouse of a woman identified as “Executive Assistant #1” and grabbed her breast. Another woman, “State Entity Employee #1,” accused Cuomo of patting and grabbing her butt while they both posed with others for a photo.
Blatant advances like those were not acceptable even when Cuomo was in high school, let alone today.
In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart declared that while he could not precisely articulate the definition of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” Similarly, the vast majority of people of all political stripes surely would place those two allegations against Cuomo in the “I know it when I see it” category of inappropriate sexual misconduct.
Nonetheless, Cuomo makes an important point when he speaks of a redrawn line because the attorney general’s report also includes allegations that he gave an employee named Kaitlin the nickname “Sponge” (after directing her to act like a sponge and soak up knowledge), which she found to be “embarrassing, condescending, and demeaning,” and on another occasion commented that her work outfit made her look like a lumberjack. Complainant Ana Liss said Cuomo called her “sweetheart” and “darling.”
Granted, the attorney general’s office used the information to establish a pattern of behavior, which is why the “sweetheart” incident is mentioned, along with others like it.
Taken alone, though, calling someone “darling” versus grabbing her breast are galaxies apart in terms of severity.
Cuomo “deeply, deeply” apologized for kissing and touching too much, chalking it up to “generational and cultural shifts” but making “no excuses.” He flatly denied the more egregious allegations, saying they had no credible factual basis.
But most people thought otherwise. The report persuaded not only Cuomo’s droves of detractors but also friends and political allies — most conspicuously President Biden — to call for Cuomo to step down.
Of course, the political vultures are out for blood, but, to be fair, the Democrats didn’t circle the wagons on this one. And though no one was there other than Cuomo and his accusers when the alleged actions took place to confirm or deny their veracity, there aren’t many people whose gut tells them that he’s really an innocent man being railroaded.
Finally, just because Cuomo has little if any credibility left and couldn’t sway the masses to see things his way no matter what the political climate doesn’t mean his points should go unnoticed about the current one:
“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. Rashness has replaced reasonableness. Loudness has replaced soundness. Twitter has become the public square for policy debate. There is an intelligent discussion to be had on gender-based actions on generational and cultural behavioral differences on setting higher standards and finding reasonable resolutions. But the political environment is too hot and it is too reactionary for that now, and it is unfortunate.”
Even a broken governor is right twice a resignation speech.
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