January 5, 2015


Mario Cuomo's Lost Cause (Ramesh Ponnuru, 1/05/15, Bloomberg View)

 It must be said, though, that his convention speech hasn't aged well. To read it now is to see why Cuomo had such an electrifying effect on liberals, and why liberalism in his era was so hopeless. [...]

He then provided a history of the Republican and Democratic parties that would make Parson Weems blush at its simple-mindedness. "The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence," he said. 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." Democrats, by contrast, "believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once." Maybe the governor should have reviewed his party's history from the 1850s through the 1880s to see just how inclusively it defined the American family.

He returned to 1984. The Democratic Party, which had "saved this nation from depression, from fascism, from racism, from corruption, is called upon to do it again" -- and to save it "most of all from the fear of a nuclear holocaust." This part of the speech doesn't hold up well. Cuomo makes it sound as though re-electing Reagan would lead to a civilization-ending inferno. It was hysterical at the time, and quite quickly proven wrong. The Berlin Wall came down five years later.

Cuomo's speech also offered an explanation in advance for Reagan's re-election. After describing Reagan's record as he saw it, Cuomo added, "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." These are explanations that losing political movements often find tempting: Our opponents are just too slick, and the American people too stupid. (Some conservatives resorted to these excuses when Bill Clinton was a popular president, and when Barack Obama was re-elected.) 

It was a speech full of nostalgia for the Democratic triumphs of previous decades and lamentations for the Republican depredations of the present. But it offered nothing for the future. Cuomo said nothing about how the country should be governed to meet the challenges of the 1980s.

...to outlast the Second Way.  
Posted by at January 5, 2015 1:33 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus