Wolf Hall. Flanagan, Cuomo, Teachers and the Discomforting World of Albany Politics

“Our wise leaders take us to the brink; our teachers make us stop and think.” Leonard Cohen

In January the Democrats in Albany maneuvered, deals were made, unmade, promises made, stories leaked to the press, and eventually Carl Heastie was crowned as the leader of the Assembly.

On Monday the Republicans in the Senate, there are 33 Republicans in the 63-member Senate, mirrored the Democrats, once again promises were undoubtedly made, members weighed the benefits, or dangers of supporting this candidate or that candidate, and John Flanagan emerged as the leader of the Senate.

The media and “good government” guys and gals bemoaned that decisions impacting all of us are made behind closed doors, and driven by personal ambition and deal-making.

Wednesday night was the last part of the six-part PBS miniseries Wolf Hall. a magnificent and chilling chronicling of the shenanigans in the sixteenth century world of Henry VIII and his close advisor Thomas Cromwell. If you’re a theatre fan you can watch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two-part five and half hour play at the Winter Garden Theater.

The mini-series and the play are filled with double-dealing, conniving and, not to ruin it for you, the fate of Anne Boleyn. A 21st century iteration of the unsavory side of politics is House of Cards, the Netflix series is filled with double and triple dealing, as well as an occasional murder.

Our founding fathers understood the realities of politics, the ambition of men, and the fact that men were not angels. As James Madison wrote in Federalist # 51,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government ,,, If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary

The founding document of our nation, our constitution, was the product of behind the scenes deal-making. The meeting which we refer to as the Constitution Convention was a secret meeting, the members were sworn to secrecy, the press had no idea what was transpiring during the spring and summer of 1787 in Philadelphia. The delegates themselves, who slowly trickled into Philadelphia thought they were meeting to make the dysfunctional Articles of Confederation workable; James Madison (Virginia) and Alexander Hamilton (New York) had other ideas. As the fifty-four delegates, each representing their state began the discussions it became clear that the goal was actually to create a new national governing system.

The participants were not only sworn to secrecy, there were no official minutes of the debates. James Madison kept copious notes, and required that his notes remain secret for fifty years. It not until 1911 that Max Ferrand published an Annals of the Constitutional Convention using Madison’s notes and bits and piece of recollections of other attendees to reconstruct, to the extent possible, the actual debates within the Convention. We have no idea about the accuracy of the Ferrand Annals, whether they actually reflect the debates or they reflect the memories of Madison or whether Madison massaged his notes to disparage this one or that one.

Lawrence Goldstone, in The Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution (2005), wrote,

,,, the proceedings remained strictly secret, conducted behind locked doors that were guarded at all times by armed sentries … The official minutes were kept intentionally sketchy … the delegates disagreed on almost everything … But of all the issues that would arise in Philadelphia, the one that evoked the most passion, the one that left the least possibility of compromise, the one that would pit morality against pragmatism, was the question of slavery. To a significant and disquieting degree, America’s most sacred document was molded and shaped by the most notorious institution in its history.

Our nation’s bible is built on secret wheeling and dealings, and stained with the curse of slavery.

In the political cauldron that is Albany Andrew Cuomo choose to make an example of teachers. Perhaps his misreading of Machiavelli; the quote “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both;” he fails to understand that punishing teachers does not mean that teachers fear the punisher.

Teachers are a strange breed, to attack teachers is to attack the children they nurture and protect. Attacking teachers is akin to attacking the cubs of the lioness.

Let us not forget the first teacher who was brought up on charges. Socrates was charged with “corrupting the morals” of Athenian youth by asking them to think deeply. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death; the teacher evaluation law in Athens was tough.

Plato, in the Apology, recounts Socrates last speech.

“This much is all I ask of my accusers: when my sons grow up, avenge yourselves by causing them the same kind of grief that I caused you, if you think they care for money or anything else more than they care for virtue, or if they think they are somebody when they are nobody.

Reproach them as I reproach you, that they do not care for the right things and think they are worthy when they are not worthy of anything. If you do this, I shall have been justly treated by you and my sons also.

Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one.”
― Plato, Apology

Long after Cuomo has faded from the memories of New Yorkers they will fondly remember the teacher that changed their life.


2 responses to “Wolf Hall. Flanagan, Cuomo, Teachers and the Discomforting World of Albany Politics

  1. Machiavelli lived at a time when the world was made up of tyrants and kings. Cuomo should understand that the workings of a democratic republican government is a little different. No matter what trade-offs and corrupt practices exist, at the end of the day, people keep or lose their office through the votes. I guess the votes of several hundred hedge-fund billionaires are worth more to Cuomo than the votes of one hundred to two hundred thousand New York State teacher He may believe these billionaires hold the key to him becoming president. However, he forgets that we also hold some power–to prevent him ever becoming anything further than an arrogant state politician.


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