Sunday, January 04, 2015
Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York and once a giant in the Democratic Party, died Thursday, January 1 (US time). In 1984, Cuomo gave the Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention (excerpt above), and I thought it was one of the most powerful speeches I’d ever heard.
In 1984, my transition from Republican to Democrat was pretty much complete, but there were still some residual feelings of loss and mourning—I’d been a Republican all my life up until 1980, after all. The powerful words of Cuomo, defending traditional Democratic Party values and liberalism itself inspired me and made me feel happy to me in my new partisan home.
In the decades since, there have been Democratic politicians who greatly disappointed me, politicians who seemed to be running away from traditional Party values. Others—especially in recent years—have embraced those values and liberalism itself. Few have been as passionate as Cuomo had been.
I knew very little about Cuomo as governor (I think that most Americans are pretty ignorant most of the time about what goes on in other states), so I think that Roger Green’s recollections as a resident of New York provide a good perspective. However, I did know that he was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and at a time when that was definitely not popular.
For the same reason that I didn’t know much about Cuomo as governor, it would’ve been the 1990s before I heard about the 1977 New York City mayoral campaign between Cuomo and Ed Koch. In particular, I heard about posters that started popping up urging, “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo”. Koch always blamed Cuomo and his son Andrew (now New York Governor, who was working on his father’s campaign at the time). Both Cuomos denied any involvement and, indeed, it seems rather inconsistent with Cuomo’s politics to engage in that sort of thing. In 2009, Mario Cuomo told the New York Times: "If anything, I thought it was done by someone who wanted to see me lose. I never did anything like that and it was a wrong thing to do, whoever did it; it was ugly and unfair.” Koch won the election.
Mario Cuomo also gave the speech nominating Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention (CSPAN has the video; they also have the full version of his 1984 speech). Taken together, the two convention speeches pretty much sum up why Democrats like me respected him and his words so much (his 1984 speech also presents many of the reasons I was such a fervent opponent of Ronald Reagan).
Clinton apparently wanted to nominate Cuomo to the US Supreme Court, which Cuomo declined. I think he would have been an outstanding Justice on the court—possibly one of the best ever (we’ll never know). However, as things turned out, it may be just as well: President Obama would now have to appoint a successor that might possibly get past the very rightwing new US Senate, and, assuming he eventually could find such a nominee, that person would be more conservative than any of the so-called liberals currently on the court, probably more conservative than Kennedy, even. Since we have NO idea how Cuomo would have been as a Justice, I have no trouble focusing only on the practical—the extreme difficulty in replacing him with a liberal.
To be honest, I’ve missed Cuomo’s passionate defence of liberalism and Democratic Party values for a very long time. After 1992, he began to fade from the national scene. Only President Obama has been as passionate in defending those values as Cuomo once was, but his time on the political stage will be over a little over two years from now. Who will take the lead then?
I hope we’ll see the likes of someone like Mario Cuomo again. American democracy desperately needs such a voice.