Follow the Leader

I’ve read several private and public political polls lately that, at first glance, suggest a personality disorder among New York’s electorate. The unsurprising core condition: Voters want everything — tax cuts, service increases, less debt, and more (small “s”) social security. They dislike Republicans, on balance, but generally like the GOP’s policy prescriptions. They don’t trust Democrats in office, but plan to keep electing them – unless Republican candidates cut through the clutter and reach them. But they oppose the kind of political spending that would require. Large numbers of voters self-identify as independent, but only major-party candidates are electable. They want “transparent” government, but don’t follow public affairs.

While polls like these prove challenging for political professionals, they confirm something elemental and reassuring: Voters are human. They want everything good, when given the choice, and none of the bad. But they still know they have to take their medicine, like it or not.

Today, we see in a Siena College poll that New Yorkers are loving Andrew Cuomo, but blanch at the cuts – none specified yet – that he says must be made in education and healthcare spending. His approval rate is an astronomical 77% in New York, with 47% saying the state is moving in the “right direction”, which is a good number in this environment of stubborn, yes, malaise.

What these polls further confirm is that people still follow the leader, just as they do in all other aspects of their lives. We have been following leaders since kindergarten or before. Real ones emerge effortlessly, and we follow them instinctively.

Without leaders, a lot of us would sleep ‘til noon and eat Three Musketeer bars for breakfast. The football would never move downfield and fire drills would be survival-of-the-fittest affairs.

Leadership is what got Rudy Giuliani elected twice in a city that is 8-1 Democratic. He carried the Upper West Side in 1997. On issue after issue, Upper West Siders disagreed with Mr. Giuliani, but he led them through dark times and they followed him, believing he would get them back to sure footing (where they could clobber him.)

Voters have an uncanny ability to discern over time which leaders are real and which are false prophets. They stand by the real ones, even when they disagree with them. Governor Cuomo is in that evaluation process today, and so far, voters like what they see, even if they don’t like what they hear.

Bill O’Reilly is a Mount Kisco resident who writes the blog The BlackberryAlarmClock.com

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