One of America’s most powerful men is leaving office over his treatment of women. The excuse he’s offered for his behavior is laughable.
“In many ways, I see the world through the eyes of my daughters,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday as he announced his resignation.
Two weeks later, Mr. Cuomo will leave office in disgrace, driven out by an investigation that concluded he sexually harassed at least 11 women.
It was challenging to identify the most galling moment from a resignation speech so thoroughly saturated with shamelessness and hypocrisy. But I’ve settled on the 90 seconds Mr. Cuomo spent directly addressing his three daughters. He chose that moment to deliver a sermon on, I kid you not, sexism.
“I have lived this experience with and through (my daughters). I have sat on the couch with them, hearing the ugly accusations, for weeks. I have seen the look in their eyes and the expression on their faces, and it hurt,” Mr. Cuomo said.
“I want my three jewels to know this: my greatest goal is for them to have a better future than the generations of women before them. It is still, in many ways, a man’s world. It always has been. We have sexism that is culturalist and institutionalized.
“I want to make sure that society allows them to fly as high as their wings will carry them. There should be no assumptions, no stereotypes, no limitations.
“I want them to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I never did, and I never would intentionally disrespect a woman or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated. And that is God’s honest truth.
“Your dad made mistakes, and he apologized, and he learned from it, and that is what life is all about.”
Put aside the patronizing life advice, though it is jarring coming from a guy whose apparent lack of self-control just leveled his career.
The fact is, Mr. Cuomo has not offered anything resembling a genuine apology. There is no indication that he has learned from his mistakes. He barely even acknowledges them. What little contrition he showed yesterday was laughably disingenuous.
There’s a tactic politicians often use, usually as a last resort, when they’re caught doing something wrong. They seek to avoid taking responsibility for whatever they did by admitting to, and apologizing for, something less serious.
It’s the political equivalent of pleading guilty to a lesser charge. This is the rhetorical trick Mr. Cuomo tried to pull off yesterday. “There is a difference between alleged improper conduct and concluding sexual harassment,” the Governor said.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that, I sincerely apologize.
“I thought a hug and put my arm around a staff person while taking a picture was friendly, but she found it to be too forward. I kissed a woman on the cheek at a wedding, I thought I was being nice, but she felt too aggressive.
“I have slipped and called people ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’ and ‘darling’. I meant it to be endearing, but women found it dated and offensive.
“I take full responsibility for my actions. I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life.
“In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just did not fully appreciate. And I should have. No excuses.”
He takes full responsibility. He’s deeply apologetic. No excuses. But on a fundamental level, he rejects all of these women’s accounts, saying they misinterpreted his attempts to be “friendly” or “nice” as harassment.
Mr. Cuomo is seeking to paint his behavior as a generational misunderstanding. He’s 63 years old, many of the women are in their twenties, and he just didn’t know where the boundaries of acceptable conduct were.
That’s his version of events, and he seems to think it’s plausible. There are three glaring issues with this explanation. First, Mr. Cuomo has previously publicly displayed his knowledge of those exact boundaries. In fact, he helped set them.
“Let’s honor all the women who have suffered this pain and endured this humiliation,” he said at the time.
The very next day, he made a state trooper on his protection detail feel uncomfortable by asking her why she wasn’t wearing a dress. It was not an isolated incident.
Issue number two: according to multiple women, Mr. Cuomo was clearly aware that his conduct was wrong when he engaged in it, long before they came forward.