The phrase became instantly famous when Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan coined it in 1996 to describe the burgeoning internet bubble in the stock market.
I mean irrational exuberance in the sexual sense.
I mean it especially in the sense New York Governor Andrew Cuomo means it as he defends himself against accusations by three women who claimed he harassed them sexually.
Ten days ago, Cuomo’s only scandal was that he lied by as much as 50% about the number of aged New Yorkers who died from COVID in the state’s long-term care homes. But Cuomo is not the kind of leader to back down in the face of mere reality. Here’s what he said in response:
“Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home — the people died…Who cares? …33%. 28%. Died in a hospital. Died in a nursing home. They died.”
You could say he wanted to avoid double counting, which he later offered as an excuse. Or you could say he was irrationally exuberant, doubling down on his one big fib.
This exuberance spilled out last week when a former aide, Lindsay Boylan, told of Cuomo saying he had a crush on her and suggested they play strip poker.
Three days later, another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, 25, claimed that Cuomo told her he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.
Then on Monday night, Anna Ruch claimed Cuomo put his hand on her bare lower back at a wedding, and then asked: “Can I kiss you?”.
That scene was captured on camera by a fellow guest.
We all know where this story is headed. More women will come forward. His Democratic allies are already distancing themselves. The New York Attorney General is opening an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.
But the fact that Cuomo requested the investigation shows how strongly he feels that he’s innocent.
Well, not exactly innocent. But certainly not guilty. What he said in a bizarre apologia on Sunday night was “I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
The key to his defense is this: “At work I sometimes think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is in a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private.”
Let’s call this the Irrational Exuberance Defense.
Its close cousins are: “I’m a touchy-feely kind of guy” and “I’m a hugger.”
We all know men like this (though I’ve never met a woman like this, not one). They’re extreme extroverts. They’re loud. They don’t hug you; they crush you.
Even when they barely know you. Especially when they barely know you.
When you pour a little money and power into them, such men become even more ‘playful’ because they can get away with it.
What they share is not just a boundary-busting enthusiasm for other people, and especially people who happen to be young, female, attractive and at hand.
What they share is the words: “I’m a.…”
You can put any noun after those few and tiny words, and you have that person’s perfect expression of their own identity.
In fact, that bond between who you are, how you define yourself, how you act, and how hard you’ll fight any change to that whole bundle of identity, is incredibly strong. It’s far stronger than jaunty phrases like “touchy-feely” and “just being playful” hint at. You often hear these men say: “It’s who I am,” as if to say: “Some things in life can’t be changed….like me.”
In fact, the consequences of your actions have to be so dire, as Governor Cuomo’s will surely be, that you’ll stop saying “I’m being playful” because it’s what keeps you harassing women.
Irrational exuberance isn’t just about unfounded market optimism.