Belmont Club

The Blood-in-the-Water Effect

AP Photo, File

The NY Post’s Libby Emmons asks why one politician can get away with acts that would sink another. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been accused of unwanted touching and sexual harassment. President Joe Biden has been accused of everything from creepily sniffing women’s hair to sexual assault. Yet Biden is the one who gets the folksy treatment, perceived as merely touchy-feely, while Cuomo, despite his status as prince of the pandemic press conference, could be facing the end of his career.”

One possible reason is that political downfall is a two-factor effect. Although the analogy is not exact, Cuomo’s predicament might be compared to the dynamics of a shark feeding frenzy.

Some scientists have observed feeding frenzies occurring naturally, particularly in shallow waters where seabirds, seals and sea lions congregate. However, they don’t appear to be a common natural occurrence. Rather, it’s more likely that feeding frenzies are rare events caused by a “supernormal stimulus,” such as a high amount of stress in the water.

Studies have shown that sharks can sense distressed prey; they respond to scents emitted by injured fish, and they can hear the sounds of a wounded person thrashing around in the water [source: Shark Trust]. Given the choice between healthy and injured prey, the shark will always pick the injured prey because it will take less energy to catch it. But things get crazy when more than one shark shows up to take advantage of the prey’s misfortune.

In other words, the more sharks pile onto the thrashing victim, the more sharks pile on. It’s like a runaway chain reaction. Cuomo’s wounded and the chemical signal is out. The New Republic uses the word “cascade” to describe the effect.

The writers of Cuomo’s political obituary may very well point to Friday morning as the moment it all came crashing down. Yes, the New York governor had been embattled for some time—first by revelations that his administration covered up nursing home deaths; then by a cascade of allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct, and other inappropriate behavior, with further reports of an office culture dominated by Cuomo’s megalomania and bullying. But Friday was a day of shoes dropping, one after another.

The ‘shark feeding frenzy’ analogy is not very flattering to a political movement that characterizes itself as Woke and driven by virtue, but it is an accurate description of the old and unhallowed Communist tradition of denunciations,  the internal process through which the Party could rid itself of ‘corrupt local bosses’ and immoral capitalist backsliders.

The crimes themselves were always the same  — “so-called ‘moral breakdown,’ from alcoholism to marital infidelity, corruption, the taking of bribes, and theft of state funds. In this sense they have above all a routine, indeed, a ‘timeless’ character.” It was the name of the accused that was interesting. The true content of denunciations was to signal who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out.’ Its function was not to determine who was virtuous but who was falling out of power.

Lavrentiy Beria’s case was the classic example. His ‘bourgeois immorality’ was known to everyone but it was suddenly discovered only when he weakened; that is, when there was blood in the water. Then not only did his colleagues and subordinates pile in but they had to pile in.

So to answer the question of why Biden can do with impunity things that resemble what Cuomo is accused of the answer is simple: Joe’s not politically bleeding in the water but Cuomo is. To his credit, the governor knows that to survive he has to prove not that he’s good but that he’s bad.

BooksWake Up: Why the World has Gone Nuts. Wake Up is Piers’ rallying cry for a united future in which we reconsider what really matters in life. It is a plea for the return of true liberalism, where freedom of speech is king. Most of all, it is a powerful account of how the world finally started to wake up, and why it mustn’t go back to sleep again.

When Politicians Panicked: The New Coronavirus, Expert Opinion, and a Tragic Lapse of Reason Hardcover – March 30, 2021. In When Politicians Panicked, economic commentator John Tamny tells the heart-wrenching story of a time when politicians were tragically relieved of basic common sense in their response to the new coronavirus.

Follow  Richard Fernandez at Wretchard.com