Commentary Magazine


Party Affiliation Determined Coverage of State-Union Battles

During the last several months, the governors of three states have gone toe-to-toe with powerful state unions in order to undo the harm done by their predecessors’ capitulations to state workers on wages and benefits. In Wisconsin and New Jersey, Republicans Scott Walker and Chris Christie were subjected to unprecedented abuse by the unions and their supporters. Yet in New York, Andrew Cuomo not only overcame union resistance, he managed to do so without much negative press, let alone the deluge of insults and demonization his colleagues suffered.

While some who have covered the New York story suggest the main difference for the treatment accorded Cuomo stemmed from his less confrontational tactics and personality, the truth is, the main difference is his party affiliation.

It is true Cuomo is not as abrasive as Christie. Nor did he seek structural reforms as Walker did, because the Wisconsin governor rightly understood the only way these changes could be made permanent is to deprive the unions of their ability to hold the state hostage via collective bargaining.

But Cuomo’s principal advantage was that his identity as a newly elected Democrat meant the hitherto all-powerful state employee unions simply lacked the ability to mount a campaign smearing the governor as a heartless creature whose sole aim was to cause suffering, as Walker and Christie’s critics did. Any Republican governor who demanded the same cuts and givebacks that Cuomo put on the table would have been the subject of a major campaign aimed at delegitimizing his mandate to put the state’s financial house in order. Lacking the same political leverage their colleagues in Wisconsin and New Jersey possessed, the New York unions were forced to meekly bow to Cuomo’s dictates and accept drastic changes in compensation and benefits. Instead of being branded as a polarizing figure as was the case with Walker and Christie, Cuomo gets to play the state’s fiscal hero.

It is little surprise that after this success some are already talking up Cuomo s a Democratic presidential contender for 2016. Yet as much as he deserves the praise for taking on a tough situation, the main lesson of this story is to show just how biased is the coverage of the not dissimilar confrontations elsewhere. As much as the collective bargaining issue helped generate sympathy for Wisconsin unions which refused to accept responsibility for the state’s parlous financial health, Walker’s goals were very similar to those of Cuomo. It should also be noted that like Cuomo, Christie didn’t touch the collective bargaining issue. Yet, he was branded a “Nazi” by rabble-rousing union thugs just like Walker, a slur never aimed once at the governor of New York.

The moral of the story is that unions and their cheering section in the liberal mainstream media can call a fiscally responsible Republican any name in the book and make it stick. But Democrats with the same intent get to play by different rules of engagement that can allow them to get tough with unions without being smeared. To note, this is not to diminish Cuomo’s achievement, but it does give lie to the outrageous charges of the many media outlets that did their best to demonize Walker and Christie while barely saying a word about Cuomo.

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