“Say anything” might as well be the theme song of politics. Mitt Romney said he was pro-choice (“You will never see me waver on this”) when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. He switched to being “unapologetically pro-life” for his presidential campaigns, trying to persuade conservatives that he would do “everything in [his] power to cultivate, promote, and support a culture of life in America.”
“When you see politicians doing the right thing, saying the right thing, it is, almost always, because their polling data tells them the right thing also happens to be the politically convenient thing,” said MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. “There’s nothing more rare in politics than a politician doing something he or she knows will cost politically, hurt in the polls.”
President Obama pushed health care reform through Congress even though a majority of Americans opposed it in polls. O’Donnell said on MSNBC’s The Last Word, “The president knew that would cost him support, but he did it anyway because he believed it was the right thing to do. A typical presidency doesn’t include such political bravery about anything. Most political careers never involve political bravery. When we see it, we must salute it, we must encourage it, or we risk never seeing it again.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is the latest model of political bravery: he pushed through tough new gun and ammunition control legislation with lightning speed and signed it into law on January 15. Before the new gun legislation, Cuomo’s approval rating was at 74% but dropped to 59% in the latest Quinnipiac poll. The largest drop in support was among Republicans.
Governor Cuomo is well-acquainted with the risks of political bravery, Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out. His father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, ran against a relatively unknown George Pataki in the 1994 election. The death penalty became a widely contentious issue for both campaigns. Mario Cuomo was against the death penalty, and in order to beat pro-death penalty Pataki, Cuomo needed to say he favored it in the case of cop killers. It would’ve been a purely academic stance: New York had not executed anyone in 31 years.
But “it wasn’t an academic point to Mario Cuomo. It was a moral principle,” O’Donnell said. “On this hugely important issue, this political issue, this moral issue, this life-or-death issue, the death penalty, Mario Cuomo never considered telling voters anything but the truth about his moral and practical opposition to the death penalty. And he kept telling that truth knowing that it was costing him the election. The gubernatorial campaign of 1994 was Mario Cuomo’s last hurrah. He held on to his soul in that campaign, but he lost the governorship.”
Andrew Cuomo followed in his father’s footsteps, making the politically brave move even though it came with a political cost, O’Donnell said.