Cuomo Is Wrong to Give Free Tuition to Gold Star Families

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a strategic retreat. In response to well-publicized criticism of the decision of the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature to kill a bill that would have offered free college tuition to spouses and children of servicemen and women killed in the line of duty, Cuomo made the tuition benefits available by executive order instead. Score one for Republicans, conservatives, and patriots!

Not so fast. Cuomo’s action was pure political opportunism. He saw that New York Democrats were bleeding support because of a perceived indifference to the families of the fallen, and he reacted in the only way Democrats know how: he threw other people’s money at the problem. Hooray!

My concern with Cuomo’s action goes much deeper, however.

Our nation is plagued by record-setting deficits and debt, and the leading cause of this fiscal crisis is that the American people have never met a spending proposal they didn’t like—but they demure when it comes to paying the bill in the form of taxes. The nation’s tax burden, broadly speaking, hasn’t changed much in the post-World War II period, but spending has soared. It’s antics like those of Cuomo and the shortsightedness of voters that explain why.

But on what do we spend money? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, naturally, so often government largesse is bestowed on powerful interest groups: large blocks of voters, like the elderly, or big corporations, who can afford lobbyists and golden parachutes for retiring Congressmen.

There is, however, another category of Americans who frequently receive government backing. It is those who can both capture the public eye and exploit whatever tragedy, oppression, or injustice has befallen them. To put it succinctly, pity is the new currency of American politics. Groups jockey for position as the most pitiable, and they routinely express indignation when one of their own is subjected to criticism. “How dare you,” they cry. “I’m a victim! I deserve sympathy, respect, and above all a big cash payout!”

It is, of course, Democrats and liberals who most excel in the weaponization and the monetization of grief and victimhood. Democratic political campaigns are comprised mainly of “doing the rounds” among various put-upon and thus favored groups, all pressing their grievances at every opportunity. Racial minorities and women claim pride of place in the Left’s hierarchy of pathos, but other groups, defined by their religion, sexuality, union membership, immigration status, income (or lack thereof), and other factors, jostle for position as well. Sometimes, these groups become rivals. Usually, though, they can agree that they all deserve a generous slice of the American pie, and not uncommonly they get it, since the pie, at least in terms of government expenditures, only gets bigger every year.

None of this is to deny the reality of tragedy, oppression, or injustice. Some Americans feel sorry for themselves, or they feel sorry for others, and often their pity is rooted in very good reasons. The families of fallen soldiers are certainly among those who merit our concern and our solicitude. No one denies that.

The fact is, however, American servicemen and women who die in the line of duty did not sign up in the first place to serve a nation that bestows perks and entitlements depending on how many boxes a person can check on the master list of sorrow. They did not agree to fight for their country in the expectation of tuition scholarships for their bereaved family members, and it is disrespectful to insist that we can measure their duty and honor in terms of monetary reward.

In fact, to decide, as Cuomo has, that the life of a departed serviceman or woman is worth exactly $97,000 (the cost of four years of tuition, room, and board at a SUNY or CUNY school) is itself a slap in the face to the fallen, whose sacrifice is in reality priceless—or, rather, it utterly transcends the concept of financial compensation.

That Governor Cuomo has decided to spend someone else’s money so he can claim credit for giving succor to the families of departed soldiers is par for the course. Cuomo knows no better, and he never will.

Republicans and conservatives ought to be held to a higher standard, however. By signing on to the left-wing agenda of redistributing wealth and status from those who pity to those who are pitied, they only confirm liberals’ dominance of our warped public morality.

Instead, the conservative line ought to be: “For those who suffer, our hearts go out to you—but in the eyes of the law, and in terms of rights and entitlements, every American should be equal.”

Isn’t that what the Founders intended?

Photo Credit: John Paraskevas/Newsday via Getty Images

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About Nicholas L. Waddy

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.