Sunday, May 29 , 2016, 12:44 pm | Overcast 62º

Mona Charen: Slander? It Depends On Who Says It

By Mona Charen | @mcharen |

Everyone knows by now that the governor (and possible presidential contender) can be a hothead. Some have called him a bully. Even if you think that's too strong, it's undeniable that a trace of bellicosity has been important to what the professionals like to call his "brand."

Still, he shouldn't have said what he did in that radio interview. However strongly he may feel about those who disagree, and certainly he has his reasons for feeling aggrieved, he shouldn't have said that his opponents "have no place" in his state. It's understandable, considering the intemperance and intolerance he demonstrated, why the press is going wild with this story.

What? Did you miss it? That's because it wasn't possible presidential candidate and Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey who said those things about his opposite numbers, it was possible presidential candidate and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Speaking on WCNY radio, Cuomo told listeners that Republicans are in the midst of a civil war:

"Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are, and if they are the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are."

Naturally, there has been no outcry in the press. With the exception of the vigilant Kathryn Lopez of National Review and a few other "extremists," the interview had all the impact of a feather floating onto a blade of grass.

Let's put the equivalent words into the mouth of Christie. To do so, we must mischaracterize the Democrats' views as Cuomo was caricaturing Republican views. "Pro-assault weapon"? Few Second Amendment defenders see themselves as pro-assault weapon. The term "assault weapon" is inexact — and can sometimes amount to a matter of cosmetics, not ballistics.

In any case, people who resist gun control have solid arguments and can be found in all counties of the state of New York. Those who believe that the right to bear arms is a personal right that cannot be unduly infringed by the state also form a majority of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Are they not welcome in the state of New York?

As for "anti-gay," it isn't clear how Cuomo would define the term, but he is presumably referring to people who oppose same-sex marriage. Again, people who believe that a traditional understanding of marriage is a key pillar of family and social life would not characterize themselves as "anti-gay." They would observe, for example, that they had also opposed liberalizing the divorce laws (New York was a "pioneer" in that, too), and opposed the normalization of unwed parenting. According to a 2012 Quinnipiac poll, "extremists" opposing same-sex marriage still comprise about a third of New York state's population. Are they "not who New Yorkers are"?

Cuomo has grouped those who call themselves "pro-life" together with other "extremists." That's 48 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, and includes 31 percent of self-described Democrats, along with 46 percent of women and 51 percent of non-whites. Are they unwelcome extremists?

People who call themselves pro-life do so because they believe that every human life, at every stage, is deserving of honor and human dignity. They hold this view though they know it to be unfashionable. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed told Gallup that they believed most Americans are pro-choice, while the actual number who describe themselves that way was only 45 percent.

If Christie were to use comparable language about Democrats, he'd probably have to describe them as "pro-criminal, gun-confiscating, anti-Catholic bigots": "Pro-criminal" because some Democrats have been opposed to the death penalty; "gun-confiscating" because some Democrats have proposed gun-control measures; and "anti-Catholic bigots" because the Democratic party is responsible for Obamacare, which forces Catholic institutions and individuals to violate their religious beliefs.

Obviously, such careless and inflammatory language from the governor of a state — all the more so when he is being mentioned as a candidate for president — would provoke a shrieking nervous breakdown by every on-air personality at MSNBC. The cacophony would be only slightly less pronounced on other outlets.

Conservatives are accustomed to slander. But in this case, they should learn from the professional offense-takers on the other side and demand that Cuomo apologize.

Mona Charen is a columnist with National Review magazine. Click here to contact her, follow her on Twitter: @mcharen, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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