Mario Cuomo will be laid to rest today.
Odd. The son of a legal Italian immigrant somehow managed on his own to get an education, grow rich and become governor of the nation’s largest state – and pass his legacy on to his progeny - butt he wants the government to do for the next generations what he and his family did for themselves?
I learned about our kind of democracy from my father. And I learned about our obligation to each other from him and from my mother. They asked only for a chance to work and to make the world better for their children…
And that they were able to build a family and live in dignity and see one of their children go from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica on the other side of the tracks where he was born, to occupy the highest seat, in the greatest State, in the greatest nation, in the only world we would know, is an ineffably beautiful tribute to the democratic process. - Mario Cuomo, Keynote Address 1984 Democratic Convention
It also strikes me as odd that - in the midst of the greatest expansion of the 20th century - Mario Cuomo would choose his 1984 keynote Democratic National Convention speech to make an impassioned pitch to return to the policies that gave us the malaise of the Jimmy Carter years.
Butt alas, my mother taught me to not speak ill of the dead so I will not discuss how Mario delivered one of the most divisive speeches in American political history. Nor will I mention that he pretty much wrote the template for the Progressive grievance platform in that speech by setting up the decades long schtruggle of the haves v. the have-nots, men v. women, young v. old, whites v. minorities, etc. ad infinitum.
Instead I’ll focus on areas in his famous speech where I think we can all agree:
1. The need to look past the rhetoric of politics and politicians:
In order to succeed, we must answer our opponent's polished and appealing rhetoric with a more telling reasonableness and rationality…
We must win this case on the merits. We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do it not so much with speeches that sound good as with speeches that are good and sound; not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as with speeches that will bring people to their senses.
2. The need for party unity:
Now, we will have no chance to do that if what comes out of this convention is a babel of arguing voices. If that's what's heard throughout the campaign, dissident sounds from all sides, we will have no chance to tell our message.
We need a platform we can all agree to so that we can sing out the truth for the nation to hear, in chorus, its logic so clear and commanding that no slick Madison Avenue commercial, no amount of geniality, no martial music will be able to muffle the sound of the truth.
3. A concern for the middle class, being squeezed to death by government:
And in between is the heart of our constituency -- the middle class, the people not rich enough to be worry-free, but not poor enough to be on welfare; the middle class -- those people who work for a living because they have to, not because some psychiatrist told them it was a convenient way to fill the interval between birth and eternity. White collar and blue collar. Young professionals. Men and women in small business desperate for the capital and contracts that they need to prove their worth.
4. A concern for our runaway deficit:
That its disastrous quality is not more fully understood by the American people I can only attribute to the President's amiability and the failure by some to separate the salesman from the product.
How large is it? The deficit is the largest in the history of the universe. It -- President Carter's last budget had a deficit less than one-third of this deficit. It is a deficit that, according to the President's own fiscal adviser, may grow to as much 300 billion dollars a year for "as far as the eye can see." And, ladies and gentlemen, it is a debt so large -- that is almost one-half of the money we collect from the personal income tax each year goes just to pay the interest. It is a mortgage on our children's future that can be paid only in pain and that could bring this nation to its knees. [ed. I wonder how he would feel about a deficit more than 10 times that amount?]
5. Concern for our foreign policy:
But always -- when this country has been at its best -- our purposes were clear. Now they're not. Now our allies are as confused as our enemies. Now we have no real commitment to our friends or to our ideals.
We give money to Latin American governments that murder nuns, and then we lie about it. We have been less than zealous in support of our only real friend -- it seems to me, in the Middle East -- the one democracy there, our flesh and blood ally, the state of Israel. Our -- Our policy -- Our foreign policy drifts with no real direction.
Hard to believe the country was foolish enough to reject Mario’s platform from that 1984 convention in what turned out to be a fairly unanimous Reagan landslide. Odder still that the country took the same bait when it was offered up again, in spades, in 2008 and 2012. By then America was apparently more interested in a shiny new thing than a shining city on a hill.
Butt in closing allow me to cite Mr. Cuomo’s own closing words as he identifies something else we should all agree on:
And I ask you now, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, for the good of all of us, for the love of this great nation, for the family of America, for the love of God: Please, make this nation remember how futures are built.
Thank you and God bless you.
R.I.P. Mario, I’m sure you meant well. I for one will always “remember how futures are built.” I’ll also remember you as the guy who, when given the ball to carry, somehow managed to score one for the other team. And in the process “win one for the Gipper.” So thanks for that.
Perhaps your son can carry that tradition on too.
“For the last couple of years, President Obama keeps claiming that the recession was the worst economy since the Great Depression. But this is not correct. This is the worst “recovery” since the Great Depression.” - economist John Lott