Regular readers of our blog have a sense of what we’re like as individuals. We try to be civil and generous toward people. For example, we’re inclined, more so than other commentators, to give pols the benefit of the doubt. We’ve often tried to argue, against the grain, that our elected officials aren’t all crooks and bums, that they are human beings and that we shouldn’t be so quick to savage them when they make mistakes.
In this post, however, we’re going to harken back to our youth – to a time when personal weakness was greeted not with patient understanding and sensitivity, but a good ribbing. We grew up with people – friends, teammates and even siblings – who, if you gave them an opening, would really ride you. And if you showed even a hint of being bothered by it, they’d ride you that much more.
This experience certainly wouldn’t be recommended by any clinician for therapeutic value, but, we maintain, there is some practical benefit to it. It forces you to stop being self-absorbed and buck up. If you don’t, you’re going to be the continuing brunt of jokes.
This background is a prelude to our suggestion that the Governor of the State of New York really needs to buck up. For an extended period, he’s been in a funk that the great Bill Hammond wrote about this morning. Hammond’s column was not ribbing or mean-spirited at all. It fact, it was an almost gentle exhortation for the Governor to look in the mirror, and recognize that he has a tendency to personalize things.
But rather than internalize that message, the Governor gave a speech today that perfectly illustrates what Hammond and so many others have been noticing: The Governor, once the ultimate tough and transactional guy, is morphing into a very emotional person. It’s as if he’s on a Jenner-like journey.
In his speech today, Cuomo talked about how, as a boy, he was afraid to drive over the Tappen Zee Bridge and look down at the river below. “In my mind, I’d play out all the scenarios of bridge collapse and what that entailed. It was really scary. I couldn’t stop thinking about it….Yes, I guess my childhood was miserable.”
Where to begin? Well, it kind of goes without saying that a speechwriter wasn’t responsible for this. It could only come from Cuomo – from deep within him. But why say it in a speech on property tax relief? Why say it at all? What’s the point of it? How does it actually parse? Fear of crossing a bridge equated with the entirety of one’s childhood being miserable? What’s going on here?
Now if you look up “fear of crossing a bridge,” you find an established condition known as gephrophobia. And when you research gephrophobia, you find a lot about anxiety disorders, including an entire body of research on how gephrophobia symptoms can become especially acute during periods of stress, particularly during illness or bereavement. Symptoms include irritability and loss of focus.
The governor went on in his speech to talk about how “no one thought the bridge could be built, and when I asked about it, people were dismissive and patronizing. They said: “There’s the nice new governor. He’s so sad looking. He looks like a puppy, he does. How are we going to break it to him that he can’t build his bridge?”
Well, well, well. Where to begin with this one?
Perhaps we start by noting that no one ever said this or anything like it. Think about it: Would anyone have ever spoken to Cuomo like that then or now? No, it’s clearly a figment of the Governor’s imagination, but it’s a telling one. In much the same way that he was trying to inspire sympathy with his miserable childhood comment, he’s trying to tell us something here. He’s telling us that he is, indeed, sad. And that he wants to be loved and taken care of like a puppy.
Wow. We’re really into some couch-time territory here.
There was actually a lot more to this particular speech – revealing comments throughout. We could go on, but let us just make the observation that rather than being a joke, Cuomo’s comments were serious.
We’re not analysts, but it occurs to us that the whole bridge discussion – again totally out of place in a speech about property taxes – is a kind of metaphor. What is a bridge? It’s the connection between here and there, now and the future. Cuomo’s comments about childhood and sadness and the puppy – that’s all intense anxiety about his current life. Maybe it’s the loss of his father. Maybe it’s his companion’s illness. Maybe it’s the prospect of Preet making multiple cases against him. Whatever it is, Cuomo is signaling that he’s really struggling with things right now. It’s a cry for help.