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They’re Really Not Like Us

October 23, 2014

You’re always polite to people. You hold the door open for the next person. You let the guy carrying one item go ahead of you in the grocery line. You engage with others in a sincere and forthright manner. Every once in a while, there’s a situation in which you have to assert yourself.  But when you do, your goal is to clear up whatever misunderstanding there might be.

Congrats. You’re Everyman. Or Everywoman.

You’re certainly not Rob Astorino or Andrew Cuomo. Last night, these two engaged in a debate that was a sophisticated duel of intentional mischaracterization.

The mischaracterizations occurred in a range of topics, but it was most pointed when Astorino insisted that Cuomo is corrupt and about to be indicted, and when Cuomo, fighting fire with fire, said, in effect, that Astorino is a racist. (Neither man is what the other said about him.)

The fact that these two engaged in this way wasn’t a surprise to us. We knew it was coming.  What surprised us was how quick and thorough they were in creating negative narratives for each other. They delivered their zingers flawlessly, which makes it obvious that they had rehearsed it all.

Call us naïve, but that ability – to engage in the negative knowing full well what you’re saying isn’t accurate, or at least isn’t the full picture – and doing so with such aplomb, without any qualms or hesitation, is – darkly – quite impressive and also a little scary.

Astorino was the most adept at it. He gives the impression that he could tell any lie about anyone and do it convincingly.

Cuomo, we thought, looked a little uncomfortable making his negative pitches. We even detected moisture, a shine on his upper lip.  And when we saw it, we said to ourselves: “Astorino is making him sweat!”

If so, it was a pyrrhic victory for Astorino. That’s because Cuomo never really faltered in the debate, and, as a result, he won.

But Astorino showed that TV is indeed his environment. He really projects comfort and confidence. But as we’ve written in the past, he’s only appealing when he’s being affirmative. When he’s on the attack, he can look snarky, whiney or, as he did last night, a bit arrogant and disrespectful.

Astorino’s only strategic mistake in the debate was keeping the discussion going of the federal lawsuit against Westchester. He did that twice and the net result was that more time was spent on that issue than Moreland.

But damn! How the two of them went at each other with their criticisms. How they created whole constructs of criticism. How they animated their attacks with gestures and expressions.

It was all rather hard for Mr. McDermott to follow. And if it was hard for him to follow, it was probably hard for ordinary folks, too.

In the end, it was a kind of snarky standoff. Most people tuning in probably tuned out thinking that neither man was like them nor particularly likeable.

Mr. Hawkins and Mr. McDermott were much more Everyman.  In fact, it might be the case that Hawkins substantive performance was more damaging to Cuomo than Astorino. Astorino needed a breakthrough and didn’t get it. Hawkins just needed to show that he was more than a gadfly. And he seemed to do that.

We always want to think that pols are like us, that they put their pants on the same way, and have the same basic decency and desire to reach accord with others. But then you watch a debate like that, and you just end up saying: “Damn.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark Keister permalink
    October 24, 2014 8:59 AM

    Damn! Glad the rose tint is leaving your glasses!

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