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They've Come Undone

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There is no politician of whom this measure is not now taken by the opposition and the press (and even by admirers). How flagrant is he? Are there partners who will talk? And what’s his opponent’s zipper status?

This is what people talk about. This is what people really want to know. A consensus develops (we believe the consensus to be more truthful than the public statements). We are imagining lives here, imputing character. Sexuality is part of the postmodern political analysis. And indeed—Clinton, Giuliani, Gingrich, etc.—we tolerate wide extremes. It is no longer a moral issue—we are well beyond that—but an issue of who you are. How real are you, how arrogant, how shifty, how crass, how human?

It may be that the single greatest Bush political achievement is that he was able to cordon off his sexual life. He admitted to having one in the past—that was the stroke of genius.

Now, I have no idea of the reality of Andrew Cuomo’s sex life. I do know that the wide assumption is that he has a sex life at least commensurate with his status as a good-looking, powerful, aggressive man. (“There are very few Peter Vallones out there,” a state political consultant says about the current scene in New York.)

“I would not find it intensely believable that a guy like that could go his whole life without some slippage,” remarked a friend of mine when I argued that Andrew might have been faithful to his wife.

“His eyes drink you in like straws,” said a young woman I know who has been around Andrew.

Certainly this sense of Andrew’s being too hot to handle became a factor in the campaign. The Clintonian aura attached to him. The flirtatiousness was real. In any given room, he was a serious serial flirter. The intensity—physical, sexual—was ever-present. Nobody looks at this uncritically anymore. Everybody has well-developed radar.

Including the wife—who we know now, courtesy of the New York Post and a photographer’s long lens, has been spending lots of time in the gym.

It has the feel of irony and payback: She cheated on him.

And this now has revealed him, in a further irony, as not a cynical politician but a naked, cuckolded husband with real hurt and rage. The political world may be less postmodern than it sometimes seems.

And then the comedy.

It is not just that your wife is having an affair but whom she’s having an affair with.

This really becomes the illusion-shattering thing. And your illusions not just about your wife but about yourself.

A long time ago, almost fifteen years, I had some dealings with Bruce Colley. It was one of those being-involved-with-people-you-shouldn’t-be-involved-with things (Andrew may be feeling something similar now). But I was trying to raise money for a business venture, and that led from one more-or-less-questionable rich person to another.

Colley’s father was among the largest McDonald’s franchisees in the country (possibly the largest), meaning the Colleys were worth hundreds of millions. The father ran the business and the son didn’t—it seemed that simple. But the son didn’t appear to do anything else either. He was pompous and ridiculous. Disengaged and superficial in a way that made you think it really is damaging to be rich. And not so bright. That was in fact his calling card—"He’s not so bright,” said my friend who was his friend—so, in other words, there was some chance he might invest in what I was doing.

Indeed, you could hardly imagine two more opposite people than the fatuous and self-satisfied Bruce Colley and the intense and hungry Andrew Cuomo. At least on the face of it.

But if the human-rights activist was once interested in the liberal politician but now madly in love with the Republican polo-playing McDonald’s franchisee (human-rights activism and polo playing are, in the end, both leisure-time activities), well, there it is.

The point remains: It really isn’t all that hard to follow the standard playbook here. You issue a statement. You leave town for a little while. You appear amicably together in public once or twice. You quietly sort out your real-estate issues.

Political or economic self-interest, or just the desire not to be publicly and vastly humiliated, should win out. You put on a game face.

What’s more, Cuomo is advised by his longtime chum, Dan Klores, one of the city’s consummate PR crisis managers (he handled Lizzie Grubman). And certainly, the Kennedys know a thing or two about managing personal disasters.

So how come it came apart?

Apparently for the same reasons most people in similar icky situations come unglued: mutual wounding. Imagine the pressure cooker of hatred that must have built over the months of “trying to work it out”—the failed counseling; the continuing affair; the inevitable, ongoing, unrelieved bitterness.

Plus you have two organizations—the Cuomos and the Kennedys—that, when their interests are not aligned, can be counted on to turn against each other, resulting here in tabloid tit-for-tat (because they are both so often the focus of tabloid interest, they are both wired into the tabloids).

And so commences the fanzine melodrama: the charges of betrayal . . . then the revelations of the polo player . . . then Andrew waving his finger at the polo player: “Stay away from my kids” . . . and the polo player threatening legal action . . . and Kerry pronouncing her love . . . and then how distraught she is that the polo player might not be in love back . . . and Andrew, in a moment of gallantry, announcing that he still loves his wife.

And, of course, Andrew just can’t stop talking.

The rap that he went negative on her—went public with her affair before she could go public with anything about him—suggests he is more in control than he really ever has been.

Indeed, Klores was denying all over town that any of the affair stuff came from him or from Andrew. And technically, that may be true. But—imagine—Andrew is on the phone night and day. He’s not consciously talking to the press, but he’s talking to anybody who will listen to him. He isn’t different from any other wounded husband—except that he can talk longer, can explain further, can analyze better. Indeed, he can’t stand for anybody else to tell the story. He is his own narrator—that’s his need.

How many people did he call? No doubt, a good portion of the biggest gossips in the state.

Likewise, to counter Andrew’s gossip, the Kennedys have to deploy their own gossipers in the field.

And then, after the hardy band of tabloid reporters wring the gossip out of everyone who has talked to anybody who has had any contact, Andrew is on the phone with reporters (or at the end of his driveway going on and on), pleading with them not to call everyone he has called.

The rap on Andrew may be dead wrong—he’s not a lover; he’s a talker. As promiscuous and indiscreet a talker as there has ever been. It’s his mouth he can’t keep zipped. He wants you to know what he thinks and feels.

Now, this is obviously a political liability of some magnitude. Andrew’s inability to shut up now holds him up to vast torment and ridicule—not to mention meaning, in any conventional sense, the end of his political life (betrayal, unlike with Hillary, has not lent him stature).

But let me return, before he is hopelessly cast aside, to the idea of Andrew as a political figure.

The interesting thing is that people are always trying to shut Andrew up, trying to manage what he says, trying to get him on the straight and narrow.

But what if you gave Andrew free rein? Let politics again become what it has not been for a long, long time—an expressive art.

After all, there’s hardly anything left to hide. He’s devastated, destroyed, finished, report people who have spoken to him, just like all left-behind husbands. But this is the subject, the real-life political subject, that people want to hear about. This isn’t a phony issue.

Let him talk.


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