Matthew T. Mangino
January 8, 2015
During the summer of 1984, I was about to enter my senior year at Westminster College in rural western Pennsylvania.
The region had long been a stronghold for labor-influenced liberalism. However, Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, and soon after, our congressman, Eugene Atkinson, switched from Democrat to Republican. The Democratic Party was a ship without a rudder.
Then, on July 22, 1984, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo gave an electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
Cuomo’s speech that night 30 years ago inspired me and I’m sure many young people around the country. Four years later, I would attend the 1988 Democratic National in Atlanta, Georgia, as a delegate.
Gov. Cuomo was, like me, an Italian-American Roman Catholic. But he was more than that: He was a pious intellectual — a former athlete who became a tenacious campaigner.
I have watched his convention speech more times than I care to admit, and I have read it many more times. Although a successful lawyer and an accomplished politician, he was not afraid to talk about helping the less fortunate.
Unfortunately, the chasm between the haves and the have nots that Cuomo spoke about so passionately in 1984 has not changed much in the last 30 years.
Cuomo died last week, but liberalism died a long time ago. In fact, liberalism as a political label no longer exists. If you’re a left-leaning politician you’re not a liberal, you’re a progressive.
On that stuffy July evening in 1984, Cuomo told a hall full of dyed- in-the-wool Democrats that there was another part to President Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.”
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 the middle-class parents watch their dream they hold for their children evaporate.”
Those concerns of 1984 are strikingly relevant today. The middle-class is shrinking; students are buried in debt; and America has yet to fully recover from a mortgage crisis.
Tragically, this is not a Democrat /Republican issue or a conservative/progressive issue — it is a leadership issue. The last 30 years have been split almost evenly between Democrat and Republican leaders.
Although Cuomo was often thought of as a presidential candidate, he never took that step. Cuomo was a bundle of contradictions. He was a devout Catholic but fought for a woman’s right to choose. He ardently opposed the death penalty, but noted he built more prison cells than any other New York governor in history.
The thing that Cuomo had that few politicians display today is humility. He had moments of self-doubt. He said after deciding not to pursue the presidency, “I do desperately want to believe in something better than I am.”
“If all there is is me in this society, then I've wasted an awful lot of time, because I'm not worth it,” columnist E.J. Dionne quoted Cuomo as saying.
I met Cuomo in Youngstown, Ohio, in the spring of 2003. He was not a physically imposing figure, but his personality was bigger than life. He was still optimistic and idealistic. He spoke with passion, and was generous with his time after the event.
His death came on the day his eldest son, Andrew Cuomo, delivered his inaugural address in Manhattan after being sworn in for his second term as governor of New York.
President Barack Obama said that Cuomo was “an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity and opportunity.” Former President Bill Clinton summed up the impact of Cuomo’s life simply, yet eloquently, “His life was a blessing.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was released by McFarland & Company. You can reach him at mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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