If politics were governed by a mathematical equation, Andrew Cuomo would be right where he wants to be.
Add up his actions on marriage equality, tax cuts and caps, gun control, school reform and other issues and divide by the number of policies, and you have someone who’s where political scientists say most of the country is: smack dab in the middle.
The only problem is that politics is governed instead by a “what have you done for me lately” mindset, with “lately” stretching back far beyond the agenda outlined in the governor’s State of the State speech Wednesday.
And it’s also governed by another reality: the “anti” faction is usually a lot more passionate than those who support something.
That means that for a governor thought to be pondering a White House run, zigzagging back and forth through the minefield of headline-grabbing issues may not be as strategically sound as it first appears.
It certainly won’t inspire leftists who believe, as Barry Goldwater might have put it were he a progressive, that moderation in pursuit of social justice is no virtue.
As one example, a coalition of labor, religious and other groups released a People’s State of the State even before Cuomo’s speech. It graded him like a bright student not working up to potential, saying for instance that he’s “not grasping basic concepts” of tax fairness and is “not working well with others” when it comes to taxing the wealthy to fund the pre-K education he called for.
But not to be outdone, the right-leaning Empire Center for New York State Policy dismissed Cuomo’s latest property-tax cut as too small to have any real impact, even as some business groups cheered.
The result: There’s something for everyone to hate.
You could say the same when he called in one breath Wednesday for “one New York” and in another for trickle-down measures like eliminating upstate’s corporate tax and reducing the estate tax paid almost exclusively by the wealthy – taxes that could reduce inequities to create his one New York.
Similarly, he’s riling both advocates and critics of hydraulic fracturing by trying to wait until after Election Day to decide whether to allow the controversial drilling practice.
In each case, averaging the sentiments of both sides does not equate to being safely on middle ground.
In short, he’s spent three years doing things for both sides to love – and to hate – amid the reality that the haters typically yell the loudest.
Contrast that – as many already are – with the broad-based, coherent attack on inequality that propelled Bill de Blasio to mayor of New York City and Elizabeth Warren to the U.S. Senate. They inspire passionate opposition, but passionate support, as well.
Cuomo’s a la carte approach to politics is, in one sense, to be admired; it means he’s not easily pigeon-holed.
And as he runs for re-election this year – and possibly bigger things in 2016 – he surely will claim that his hop-scotching around the political spectrum paints him as the kind of independent leader that those in the center of a Balkanized nation crave.
But in creating so many targets for his own back, he also runs the risk of learning the hard way that the political middle is more than just the sum of its parts.