Monday, January 27, 2014
Cuomo Doesn't Want You, But God Might
I guess it's never really been what you'd call a "right-wing" state.
New York State has always been somewhat progressive. And I use the word "progressive" in both its positive and negative connotations.
After all, the very first shipload of Europeans to drop anchor in what became New York Harbor had a prostitute on board. Things kinda went downhill from there in the morality department.
Still, it shocked much of the country when, two Fridays ago, New York's current governor, Andrew Cuomo, basically told however many conservatives are still left in the Empire State to leave.
“Who are they?” asked the governor, during a radio program about Republicans in state politics. “Are they these extreme conservatives, who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, antigay, is that who they are? Because if that is who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York. Because that is not who New Yorkers are.”
As you might imagine, Cuomo's hostility has not gone unnoticed by either the state's Republicans, or right-wingers across the United States. Last week, Sean Hannity, a Tea Party talking head who lives on Long Island and broadcasts his radio show from New York City, announced that he's leaving, moving to either Florida or Texas, and taking his miniature media empire with him. Devout Catholics who have been part of the state's Democratic machine for generations also balked, and Upstate conservatives, already angry that Cuomo's anti-gun stance is driving gun manufacturers out of New York, railed anew at how the governor seems bent on sabotaging whatever economic life the state has left.
Indeed, the Empire State's high taxes, corrupt politics, and bloated welfare bureaucracy have decimated its economic climate - a climate that easily beats the state's brutal winter climate as the reason companies, jobs, and taxpayers are fleeing the state.
Although his office later tried to backtrack, claiming his comments were taken out of context, there's no denying that Cuomo would prefer the state's remaining conservatives to just leave. It would make his job so much easier, especially since his comments have not imperiled his governorship or chances of re-election one iota. Conservatives there have long known that theirs is a back-breaking push against the tide of social and economic liberalism. Meanwhile, Cuomo's constituency, including die-hard liberals from not just New York City, but its limousine liberal suburbs like Westchester County, and the state's many dying, union-soaked small towns, seems convinced that the only people standing between them and utopia are pro-life, pro-Second-Amendment, pro-heterosexual-marriage voters.
For decades now, New York's increasingly prohibitive cost of living index has pushed hundreds of thousands of middle-income earners to less expensive places in America to raise their families and retire. Companies that provided jobs for New Yorkers joined the shift, since the same cost of living index that was punishing their workers was also making the state a less and less competitive place to do business. As a share of population, the Empire State lost more residents than any other state between 2000 and 2010. That amounts to an out-migration of over 1.6 million people in just ten years. And the state's population drain had started long before then. It's quietly been masked by New York City's consistent ability to attract immigrants from foreign lands.
Despite his popularity among his state's reliable core of liberals, however, it seems a bit foolhardy for any governor of New York State to disparage any group of residents. Particularly a group of people who likely have more of the wherewithal to actually afford to move than many of the state's residents who rely on various forms of welfare. Perhaps just as it's politically correct for Cuomo to say what he did, it's politically incorrect to also point out that welfare residents get most of their benefits - such as housing allowances - from the state, which practically locks them in as permanent residents.
Sure, New York has lots of rich liberals, but it also has many poor liberals. Poor liberals who need not only public funds for housing, food, utilities, mass transit, and healthcare, but frankly, cause a lot of problems that Cuomo says conservatives are wrong to criticize. Problems like abortion, for which New York City is the country's capital. Currently, 41% of all viable pregnancies in the Big Apple end in abortion, which is the highest abortion rate in America. And guess what? More abortions are performed in the city's black and Hispanic neighborhoods than any other. In the poorest districts of Harlem and the Bronx, for example, more babies are aborted than born every year. Indeed, black women in New York City abort 60% of their fetuses every year.
In any other context, wouldn't that border on genocide?
Yet Cuomo thinks that's politically correct?
What about guns? Where is gun violence most prevalent in New York State? How about the ghettos not just in New York City, but every city in the state, where public housing has historically been clustered?
When it comes to gay "rights," have New York State's conservatives proposed any initiatives that deny people with same-sex attraction the right to earn a fair wage, live wherever they want, or pursue their lifestyle in public? If you want to talk about gay marriage, which is where liberals like Cuomo are earning their bread and butter these days, consider the fact that one of the state's most prominent liberal Democrats, State Senator Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, is adamantly opposed to it.
Surprised? Well, don't be, because one of the best things about New York State isn't its liberalism, of course, but the way contrasts of all types jostle with each other for attention. Contrasts in wealth, scenery, population density, and political ideology. The problems come when these contrasts fall too heavily on the wrong side of the spectrum.
Little Town Blues
For Cuomo to say what he said about conservatives may not just be a political stunt for him. It may also betray his growing consternation that, despite the conventional assumption that liberals rule his state, conservative New Yorkers aren't going down without speaking their mind. Perhaps his attempt at defining genuine New Yorkers as the antithesis of conservatism speaks as much about his own intolerance for diversity as it does his exasperation over the reality that, for his state to survive, he needs the tax dollars of voters who don't agree with him.
People outside of New York State may consider the brou-ha-ha over Cuomo's remarks simply so much left-wing bravado in a state that is rapidly losing clout in American politics. As New York's population continues to stagnate, while most other states are experiencing more robust population growth, it loses seats in the House of Representatives in Washington, as well as billions of federal taxpayer dollars in subsidies for all sorts of local programs and projects.
So what, you ask?
Well, on the one hand, perhaps it wouldn't mean much in the grand scheme of things if conservatives did decide to abandon New York State. In many ways, the state is already a shadow of its former self, and if America has managed to survive this long while New York has been sinking into moral and economic turpitude, maybe the rest of the country will be able to absorb further losses from the state's erosion.
For evangelicals, however, is that an acceptable scenario? How often in the Bible does God allow His people to willingly abandon someplace? Sure, He got Lot out of Sodom before destroying it and the equally evil city of Gomorrah - two cities to which the Big Apple frequently is compared. But is God calling His people to flee New York City? How about Albany, the state capital? Or Rochester, or Syracuse, or Oneida?
During the past twenty years, the Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan has overseen a thriving ministry as evangelicals "reclaim" Gotham. And all things considered, Keller's job has been fairly easy, if you consider the fact that New York City is one of the most sought-after places to live by hipsters, young professionals, and career strivers. Evangelicals have also been targeting the city for ministry in the hopes of putting some sort of dent in its abominable abortion rates, and its stubborn poverty.
Yet for all of the glamor, excitement, and trendiness of the Big Apple, New York is a state much bigger and diverse than it's largest city. Unfortunately, the rest of the state is contrastingly unglamorous, boring, and stodgy by anybody's standards. Its countryside can be stunningly beautiful, but its smaller cities are dumpy and derelict, while suburbs ringing these hollow cores are monotonous and absurdly taxed. Weather across the entire state can be challenging at best, with more precipitation than sun, and more of that precipitation of the frozen variety than is enjoyable.
Make a Brand New Start of It
When evangelicals think of the mission field, we usually envision the savannas of Africa, or the sweltering jungles of Central America, or the cacophonous megalopolises of East Asia. Or maybe the rustic villages of Appalachia, or Brooklyn's gritty Brownsville ghetto. But what about the smaller cities and towns of New York State? Places that may not be as conservative as most evangelicals would consider comfortable, yet places where residents are fed a steady diet of liberal ideology by virtue of their political subjugation by Albany, and their social subjugation by New York City? After all, it's not just New York City where politicians like Cuomo find kindred spirits. For generations, the state has been split between residents of Gotham, and everybody else. And Gotham's influence has always predominated. Yet as the population across the rest of the state continues to shrivel, Gotham manages to keep attracting newcomers, meaning its influence is actually expanding in state politics.
Is that something evangelicals should simply allow to evolve?
Okay, so part of my interest in this quandary stems from the fact that I was born in New York City and raised through elementary school deep in the heart of Upstate New York. I have some good memories of both the city and Upstate, but as a cynic, I'm more of a realist than a nostalgia buff. I have to admit: I have no desire to move back there and pay those taxes, putting on a happy face through all of those gloomy, sunless days, shoveling all of that snow, and searching desperately for a living-wage job. All while my car rusts out from road salt. And those "conservative" Republican politicians left in the state? Many of them are still pro-choice.
Quite simply, it's all easier to ignore by not living there.
But lately, I've begun wondering how logical it might be for evangelicals like me to consider repopulating this state, where even its governor has admitted he doesn't want us. After all, when he talks about "right-to-life conservatives," Cuomo is even denigrating Democrats who abhor abortion. It's not just Republicans he can't stand.
Meanwhile, America's "Bible belt" continues to grow fat and happy with like-minded conservatives who prefer group-think to missional faith. And then, after every election, they get together and bash northern liberals for advancing their left-wing agenda.
Let's not ignore the fact that, even in decline, New York State is home to 19.6 million people. Georgia has 10 million. North Carolina? 9.8 million.
Roughly speaking, it would take both Georgia and North Carolina to equal New York in population. Get the picture? New York State is still pretty big.
Tennessee has 6.5 million, Colorado has 5.2 million, and South Carolina has 4.7. All three combined don't come close to New York's population. Not that God places His priorities on numbers, but you have to admit: New York State still has a measure of relevance when it comes to people who need exposure to some salt and light.
We might not like to look at it this way, but God has opened up a desperately needy mission field between Lake Erie and the south shore of Long Island.
Its governor might not want you, but since when has any self-respecting evangelical cow-towed to a left-winger?
Update 1/28/14: And then there's this, from CNN/Time. It's a survey conducted by the American Bible Society to determine, ostensibly, the "most Godless city" in the United States. Only five New York State cities made the bottom 20, or the "most Godless" cities. But then again, they were the only cities in the state large enough to make the list in the first place.