William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
There's no middle ground for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Not on abortion anyway. That was the clearest take-away from this year's legislative session in Albany.
You're either pro-choice or pro-life in the eyes of our ostensibly Catholic governor; there's no in between. He said it over and over again in the final weeks of the session.
The black or white rigidity of Cuomo's thinking actually sent me to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual this week -- that's a reference book for psychologists -- to check what he might have. My amateur diagnosis is that he's either totally nuts (a nonscientific term) or just plain strident. There's a third possibility, too, of course. He may be -- just may be -- manipulating the electorate for political gain.
The problem with the governor's assessment is that it's factually incorrect -- that, or a vast plurality of New Yorkers just became pro-lifers. Because while a significant majority of New Yorkers consider themselves pro-choice, very few of them want unrestricted abortions allowed up until the ninth month of pregnancy, according to polls, which is pretty much what the governor's failed abortion bill would have permitted. Object to that -- and what rational person wouldn't? -- and you are stamped a pro-lifer, like it or not, by our resolute governor.
It must be tempting for a New York chief executive with national ambitions to dive head first into the neo abortion wars popping up around the country. The political currency is lucrative. Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis just became a national hero in the Democratic Party for sensationally filibustering a bill that would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks and imposed stricter regulatory standards on clinics, many of which would not have been up to snuff.
But according to polls, restrictions are exactly what most Americans prefer as they begin to learn more from science about the stages of early human development. Eighty percent of Americans think that unrestricted abortion should be outlawed in the third trimester, according to Gallup, and 64 percent think it should be outlawed in the second trimester, always with exceptions for life-threatening medical emergencies.
But what Cuomo and Davis realize is that the abortion debate is never rational; it is intensely emotional and political. They understand that voters who care deeply about abortion rights may want further restrictions in an ideal world, but they don't trust legislators who would make changes in the law. The process is seen as a slippery slope.
New York is one of the most strongly pro-choice states in the country. It legalized abortion in 1970 -- three years before Roe -- with a sitting Republican governor and a Republican-led State Senate and Assembly. No way the right to an abortion is being rolled backed here, even if Roe were to be struck down. But 43 years later, what do we end up arguing about most at the end of the legislative session? Who is really pro-choice and who isn't.
Albany watchers expect the next session to kick off exactly where this one left off, with Democrats accusing Republicans of being extremist for not wanting to pass legislation that eight in 10 Americans would oppose. It is expected to be used as a battering ram against the State Senate majority that refused to act on Cuomo's bill in 2013.
That may be a good political strategy in the short term, but Cuomo's position, upon close inspection, will almost certainly make him the extremist in the broader historical view. It will unquestionably render him manipulative and doctrinaire.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.