Do ‘New York values’ tolerate pro-life viewpoints? 

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On the morning following the most recent Republican presidential debate, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared on the CNN show ”New Day.”  Responding to a question from anchor Alisyn Camerota about Ted Cruz’s comments concerning “New York values,” an angry Cuomo groused: “He is practicing the politics of division. He’s trying to divide people. He’s trying to divide the country.”

During the Jan. 14 GOP presidential showdown, Fox Business debate moderator Maria Bartiromo had quizzed Cruz about what he meant by the memorable phrase “New York values.” After some brief sparring, the Texas senator said, “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, are pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media.”

In the heartland, most viewers were likely nodding in agreement, and perhaps wondering why he omitted drugs and pornography from of the litany. In Albany, the governor was having none of it. “What he said,” Cuomo charged, “he was offensive to gays … I don’t believe this country is hostile to women.” Precisely how labeling the Big Apple “pro-abortion” metastasized into a country “hostile to women,” Cuomo never bothered to articulate.

The New York chief executive wasn’t finished. “This is: ‘I’m going to try to divide us one by one,'” Cuomo castigated Cruz, “and pro-choice women from anti-choice women … The division is polarizing people.”

There you have it. Cruz is divisive by describing New York City as “pro-abortion.” Cuomo, on the other hand, is trying to heal, and how better to unite the nation than by separating half its population into “pro-choice women” and “anti-choice women.” One can only guess with which group of women the unifying Cuomo sympathizes.

But the truth is that Cuomo’s rhetoric actually proves Cruz’s case. Blind to his own stigmatizing of women who disagree with his abortion position, he goes on to blame Cruz for “polarizing people.” Paradoxically, Cuomo claims his impugning some women as “anti-choice” will bring everyone back together.

When framing political arguments, the use of language provides an effective means of building up one side and undermining the other. Relying on constituencies less ideological than Cuomo’s New York liberals, most pro-choice politicians are more circumspect. Tasked with reporting on those politicians, journalists in the mainstream media strive even harder to seem neutral on hot-button issues. Seeking to avoid the appearance of partisanship, they have a stake in passing for objective, unbiased observers of the news. This self-proclaimed objectivity does not prevent them from smuggling in language that frames the abortion issue in a particularly tendentious way.

A balanced presentation might sum up the opposing sides as “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Imprecise as are all shorthand descriptions, those terms are concise, understandable, widely known, and reasonably even-handed. Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly pro-choice mainstream media contingent is not content with a fair presentation, not when they can tip the playing field in their favored direction.

In the stylebooks of such media organizations as the Associated Press, CNN, CBS, and NBC, the approved terms are “abortion-rights advocates” or “pro-abortion rights” for those who favor abortion. ”Anti-abortion” or — the more damning — “anti-abortion rights” are the preferred labels for those who oppose abortion. It doesn’t take Walter Cronkite to figure out which side benefits in the war of words. The side identified with “rights” always starts out far ahead. Opponents are forced to surmount the high bar of proving that a “right” is somehow “wrong.”

The search for so-called neutral language favors those benefiting from the high-ground positives “pro” and “rights”; the right-to-life side is weighed down with the negative “anti-,” further freighted with hostility to “rights.” In a purported effort to eschew “loaded” terms like pro-life and right-to-life, pro-choice liberals in the media manage to tip the scales toward their favored outcome. That would be honest and acceptable, if they owned up to their bias and stopped masquerading as objective. Such an admission would at least end the charade.

More glaringly, Gov. Cuomo labels his pro-life opponents in even more demeaning terms. He may have avoided this path had he reviewed a predecessor’s most famous speech. The current New York chief executive’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, once delivered a widely covered lecture at Notre Dame University titled ”Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective in 1984.” Like Andrew, Mario Cuomo was a highly partisan pro-choice Democrat; unlike his son, Mario acknowledged the legitimacy of the pro-life position.

“I accept,” he stated in his address, “the Church’s teaching on abortion … I believe we should in all cases try to teach a respect for life. And I believe with regard to abortion that, despite Roe v. Wade, we can, in practical ways.”

Governor Mario Cuomo passionately disagreed with the right-to-life political agenda. But, rather than crudely dismissing it, he made an effort to understand the pro-life philosophy, and then formulate a coherent argument for his pro-choice views. That’s a far different “New York value” than contemptuously dismissing pro-life women as ”anti-choice.”

Not so, says the disdainful younger Cuomo. In Andrew’s New York, no quarter shall be offered to those who dare express pro-life sentiments. Lumping together “right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, and anti-gay” conservatives, Cuomo descended to a new level of vituperation in January 2014. “If that’s who they are,” a scornful Cuomo admonished, “they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

The next time Ted Cruz or any other conservative is asked about “New York values,” they need look no further than the governor himself. Not only does Cuomo attach social liberalism to the heart of his state, but he tosses aside any modicum of civility or willingness to live side-by-side with those who share a different viewpoint. In Andrew Cuomo’s New York, tolerance is a one-way street.

Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read his past columns here.