January 2, 2015

The Inspirational Mario Cuomo

1984 was the third presidential election I voted in.

I didn't have a lot of hope that Walter Mondale would win. He could not match Ronald Reagan's Hollywood appeal and charisma, his easy charm. Mondale also had made the decision to choose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate. I admit to being excited about the possibilities of that choice, but was not surprised with how it played out: the investigation into her finances, her husband's business, her brashness, the whole 'Italian thing' and the potential ties to organized crime, and so on.

The main reason I didn't have a lot of hope for Mondale, honestly, was that he wasn't Mario Cuomo.

Like many twenty-something Democrats (and many older ones as well), I was very moved by Cuomo's convention keynote address, and his vision of America. I loved his passion, and his energy, and his ability to grab and hold people's attention, as he did mine. Cuomo could have tackled Reagan, I thought back then -- I remember talking with my Dad about how we had picked the wrong guy.

I watched the highlight reel from that speech again yesterday, after hearing the news that Mario Cuomo had died on the very day that his son Andrew began his second term as New York's Governor.  The most famous parts, good libs can at least paraphrase without much prompting. Here's a look at some of them. Later, I'll look at some of the things that didn't make the video.

On Reagan's "this country is a shining city on a hill" analogy:
The hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees...But there's another city; there's another part to the shining, the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate. 
 In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it... There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city. In fact Mr President -- this is a nation -- Mr President you ought to know that this nation is more a "Tale of Two Cities" than it is just a "Shining City on a Hill."
On 'trickle down' economics:
President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. "Government can't do everything," we were told, so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest.  Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.
You know, the Republicans' called it "trickle-down" when Hoover tried it. Now they call it "supply side."  But it's the same shining city for those relative few who are lucky enough to live in its good neighborhoods. But for the people who are excluded for the people who are locked out, all they can do is stare from a distance at that city's glimmering towers.
On the difference between Ds and Rs:
It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans -- the Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail.  "The strong" -- "the strong," they tell us, "will inherit the land."
We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once.  Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees -- wagon train after wagon train -- to new frontiers of education, housing, peace; the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family, lifting them up into the wagon on the way; blacks and Hispanics and people of every ethnic group, and native Americans -- all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America. And remember this, some of us in this room today are here only because this nation had that kind of confidence. And it would be wrong to forget that. 
On a 'proper government':
We believe in a single -- we believe in a single fundamental idea that describes better than most textbooks and any speech I could write what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings -- reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.
We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound to one another, that the problems of a retired schoolteacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child - -that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our future; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure. 
Back in 1984, these words moved me.  They moved me again today.  Rest in peace, Mario.