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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.