How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism

The 1984 speech at the Democratic Convention.

Amongst those commemorating former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who passed away  this weekend, nothing receives as much praise as that speech, a piece of oratory that many thought would sweep him towards the presidency.


In the passing of a man, analysis often naturally turns into hagiography. However, something that has not been praised is Cuomo’s honesty.

Cuomo sought to make a counterpoint to Ronald Reagan’s soaring rhetoric of America as a shining city on the hill.

Where Reagan’s word harkened back to John Winthrop and America’s hopeful founding, Cuomo told a tale of two cities. One was that shining city but another was darker, squalid. Cuomo focused on the second city, a focus brought about by a strikingly flawed premise: one man’s success comes at the expense of others.

Some optimists like to say that Left and Right focus on the same goal, simply seeking to accomplish it in different ways. These Pollyannas argue that common vision paves the way to compromise. Of course, in our mainstream political culture, this compromise means conservatives ceding ever more ground to the Left.

However, in his honest passion, Cuomo committed what could only be called a Kinsley gaffe. That is, he honestly defined the premise of modern liberalism: a terribly flawed America must be transformed.

As radio host Dennis Prager is wont to say, we don’t seek to fundamentally transform those things or individuals which we love. After all, imagine how your husband or wife would react to being informed of your intent to fundamentally transform him or her.

I think you’d be coming to see me at my family law practice.

Liberalism’s desire to fundamentally transform our nation reveals the ugly truth. Our goals are not the same. Our paths are not the same.


The liberal chants of income inequality show this. The focus on the outcomes in our society, rather than the opportunities to achieve any given outcome, stands in stark contrasts to our nation’s heritage.

We once asked how a person reached his or her station in life, admiring the hard work that led to success and warning our children about the bad decisions that could lead to failure.

No more. Now, we redistribute from the successful to the not-so, regardless of the reason for their circumstance. In the equality-obsessed world of the Left, the war wounded veteran has no greater claim on society’s resources than the drug addicted illegal alien carrying her fifth out-of-wedlock child.

Disdain for our traditional culture permeates liberalism.

That is why college campuses, long the playground of the Left, have become a place of feelings rather than wisdom. Students at Ivy League law schools demand – and receive! – delayed finals due to the “trauma” of the Ferguson and Long Island police shooting grand juries. After decades of concerted and successful assault on our culture’s sexual mores, the Left is not done. With the successful implementation of a hookup culture on college campuses, liberals pivot to redefine sexual assault from actual assault to regrets the day – or week – after and establish kangaroo courts to assure the male is punished. And, of course, the cosseted little campus darlings won’t be responsible for their own health insurance until nearly a decade of legal adulthood.


However, in Cuomo’s city, nothing so draws ire as the entrepreneur.

The entrepreneur gets paid last and has no safety net. His only cheerleader, if he’s lucky, is waiting at home.

Yet the liberal city’s only place for the modern day yeomen – if they must exist – is as the host for a parasitic state. They produce so that the liberal constituencies may consume.

When talking to the small business owners of America, candidate Obama famously reminded those of us that worked building businesses that we, in fact, didn’t build them. Because of roads and teachers, our success was not our own. Never mentioned was who paid the taxes for those services. just in case you thought this was some idiosyncratic theory of Mr. Obama’s, and not the position of his party, one need only see presumptive 2016 Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton reminding us that businesses don’t create jobs.

Of course, both President and Obama and potential president Clinton were just playing catchup to that liberal darling, Elizabeth Warren.


Cuomo and his successors would build a city not of gold but one decaying and gray.

Obama and his fellow travelers will deny this but their “successes” tell the tale.

Detroit is a wasteland.

California’s strangling web of regulations only gains population because of illegal immigration. Otherwise, the Golden State would see a population contraction as people flee to Nevada and Texas.


Indeed, my own path to conservatism came as a result of living in the mecca of liberalism: Berkeley. I arrived a freshman whose comfortable middle class lifestyle left me comfortable to entertain fashionable socialism. However, seeing a city where this philosophy actually ruled served as rude awakening.

Members of the Cal football team could not go out at night alone without fear of being mugged. The mayoral election centered on the question of whether it was wrong to ask street kids not to urinate and defecate in public. Actually doing something about the bums was something beyond the pale.


I decided that I did not want the filthy, crime-ridden city to become my nation writ large.

And in the end, that is what Cuomo, and liberals, call for.

Cuomo railed against two cities, one beautiful and one squalid. But his solution was a single city, bound in misery but crowing about its equality.

So mourn Mr. Cuomo’s death and pray for his family.

But do not build his city.


image illustrations via here, and here


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