By Jake Novak
I’d never seen anything like it.
There I was with my wife in the summer of 2015, getting excited to see a Billy Joel concert in what was the final event at the old Nassau Coliseum, and suddenly a surprise guest took the stage to introduce Joel to the packed house.
That surprise guest was none other than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and as soon as the crowd could make out his face a deafening crescendo of “boos” cascaded from all corners of the building.
It was an embarrassing for everyone involved; even Joel talked later in the show about how bad he felt for the governor. But not only did the concert go on, but so did the “show:” Governor Cuomo finished his second term and was re-elected easily last month.
New York is such a one-party state and the biggest population centers are so anti-Republican that even an unpopular personality as disliked as Andrew Cuomo needn’t fear the ballot box. And so he doesn’t.
So what does Cuomo fear?
Like most perfectly secure politicians and/or billionaires, Cuomo only fears an uprising by the poorest and most disenfranchised people. The state’s middle and upper classes pose no threat; they just keep re-electing him. But don’t conflate fear with respect. Cuomo has shown very little along the lines of anything but a strong disdain for New York’s poorest and most chronically unemployed.
Here are three striking examples of this that most of the news media has failed to examine.
First, Governor Cuomo’s early days in office were punctuated by a strong push for more casinos in blighted areas upstate. Whatever your opinion about the morality of legalized gambling, the fact is casinos haven’t provided much of an economic boost since the gambling legalization wave took hold in the United States in the late 1990s.
But it’s the very nature of the casino business itself that tells the real story. Gamblers and potential gamblers are treated like welfare recipients by politicians. They see giving them what they want as low-level amusement and distraction, just like the Roman Empire’s “bread and circuses” policy.
It was especially telling that at the same time Cuomo was pushing casinos, he was blocking New York from participating in the natural gas fracking boom taking place across the border in Pennsylvania. There were pro-fracking lawn signs dotting much of western and upstate New York during Cuomo’s first term from 2007-2011. But the chance for people living in those economically challenged areas to learn a truly helpful and productive new trade was blocked time after time by Cuomo. The message came through crystal clear: Cuomo believes the poor will go for flashy but empty casinos, but not for the chance to learn a skilled trade or reap other benefits from an energy source much cleaner and more abundant than coal or petroleum. At best, casinos are an empty opiate of the masses.
Cuomo again displayed his disdain for the existing poor in this region by declaring New York a “sanctuary state” in 2017. By limiting communication between police, prisons, and federal immigration officials, thereby hampering efforts to identify illegal immigrants, Cuomo has put out a big “welcome” sign out for an avalanche of illegal immigrants. If there’s one thing poor people already living in New York don’t need, it’s more poor people. Illegal immigrants siphon jobs from the poor because they often are willing to work for even less. They also exhaust and crowd the welfare system that only works marginally well as it is. But the allure of bringing in a new underclass more beholden to him and easily sacrificed to ICE and the rest of the feds if they cross him is apparently too much for Cuomo to resist.
And now, we have the third piece in the puzzle: Marijuana. Cuomo is pushing for New York to legalize recreational pot use. This will only make life harder for the poor.
There is a lot to be said for decriminalizing or at least reducing the prison sentences connected to marijuana possession and even some sales. It is true that the war on drugs has created terrible collateral damage often worse than drug abuse itself. There is also money to be made and tax revenues to be collected from the legalized business of all things marijuana. States such as Colorado have been proving reaping the benefits for more than two years now.
But for the poor, legalized marijuana is no bargain. First off, the business of cannabis production does not create many new jobs. More importantly, frequent marijuana usage and addiction is a pathway to future unemployment and a signature characteristic of many of the already unemployed in New York and across America.
The closer you look at it, the more the governor’s marijuana legalization push looks like a bread and circuses policy with plenty of opiate of the masses thrown in.
In America today, poverty isn’t really so much about the lack of the physical necessities of life. A person with no income can get government-provided food, housing, education, and health care rather easily, albeit not necessarily at the highest quality.
But what they can’t get from government or anyone else is the dignity that comes from earning their own income, working a meaningful job, and being seen as a necessity and not a liability.
Casinos and marijuana are Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cynical sneer at the poor of this state that’s echoed by plenty of his Democratic and even Republican colleagues across the country. To them, the poor are a lost cause only to be held back from causing widespread unrest with crumbs from the statehouses and city halls of America.
But maybe, just maybe, things would start changing for the poor if the politicians invested half that effort and money in programs that reward effort and encourage true upward mobility.
Pot, gambling, and open borders aren’t an example of anything really good for America’s poor. New York’s voters should stop just booing people like Andrew Cuomo who promote those loser initiatives and finally start looking for better candidates.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows atCNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of theYeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter@jakejakeny and read his columns on 5TJT.com.