Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died Thursday at the age of 82, leaves behind a legacy of greatness in political oratory.
“Cuomo became a political sensation through a medium thought to belong to another era: words. Beautiful, poetic, meaningful words, spoken in a strong, clear voice, with a cadence that turned even a clumsy phrase into a baroque masterpiece,” noted Terry Golway’s obituary for Cuomo in Capital New York.
Cuomo is perhaps best known for the keynote speech he gave at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, where his party nominated Walter Mondale to take on President Ronald Reagan. Cuomo, unabashedly embracing liberal philosophy, stole the show as he assailed Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” mantra.
“A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House or the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city — another part of the shining city,” he declared. “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 are people who sleep in the city’s streets, in the gutter where the glitter doesn’t show.”
Watch Cuomo’s full 1984 speech below:
Cuomo also gave a passionate speech at the 1992 convention, where Bill Clinton was nominated to challenge Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush. In the address, Cuomo challenged Bush’s embrace of supply-side economics with an elaborate ship metaphor.
“The ship of state is headed for the rocks. The crew knows it. The passengers know it. Only the captain of the ship — President Bush — appears not to know it,” Cuomo said. “The president seems to think that the ship will be saved by imperceptible undercurrents directed by the invisible hand of some cyclical economic god that will gradually move the ship so at the last moment it will miraculously glide past the rocks. Well, prayer is always a good idea, but our prayers must be accompanied by good works. We need a captain who understands that.”
Cuomo also demanded to know why the US government is capable of responding to banking meltdowns and natural disasters but cannot address the “quiet catastrophes” that afflict every life.
“Why can we not find the wealth to respond to the quiet catastrophes, that every day oppress the lives of thousands, that destroy our children with drugs. All the quiet catastrophes. The quiet catastrophes that kill thousands with terrible new diseases like AIDS, that deprive our people of the sureness of adequate healthcare, that stifle our future. Bill Clinton asks the question. Bill Clinton has the answer,” he said.
Watch Cuomo’s 1992 speech below:
Even in his inaugural address after taking office in 1983, Cuomo invoked powerful images of the American dream to explain his own rise to power.
“Like millions of others, my mother and father came here with very little more than a willingness to spend all their effort in honest toil,” he said. “Thanks to a government that was wise enough to help them without stifling them, … they survived.”
Watch excerpts from his 1983 speech below.
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